Savoring the Cheese: An Appreciation of 80's Horror Paperbacks by Evans Light

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely already a fan of horror fiction.

Maybe you’re just now beginning to explore the wide world of the horror genre that exists once you venture outside of the stacks of King, Koontz, Rice and V.C. Andrews titles crowding the horror sections of bookstores that bother to have one.

Or perhaps instead you started your trip towards horror fiction as a kid who devoured every Goosebumps volume that R.L. Stine pumped out, and as you grew up so did your tastes.

If you were really lucky, then you were a teen or young adult in the 80’s, a glorious period when horror ruled in just about every form of media: theaters bursting with the latest gory masterpiece, mom-n-pop video store shelves brimming over with the craziest low-budget stuff you could imagine, horror-themed metal blasting from half the radio stations on the air.

Cheesy.jpg

I’m completely aware that 80’s worship is in full swing. From SUPER 8 to STRANGER THINGS and a hundred other throwback projects in between, you can barely walk in a straight line these days without plowing through piles of acid-washed, big-haired synth-pop crap entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, a little nostalgia from time to time is fun, but it’s getting to the point I’m about to hang myself with a leg warmer.

But there’s one thing I don’t think I’ll ever stop appreciating the 80’s for gifting upon the world: a massive tsunami of horror fiction.

My god, those books.

Spinning racks stuffed with a seemingly never-ending supply of fresh pocket paperbacks, with leering, lurid, oversaturated, foil-stamped, embossed, step-back covers an apparently required-by-law  fixture in nearly every grocery and drug store. Those covers promised unspeakable horrors and unthinkable depravities specifically designed to subvert and pervert innocent young minds. Even better, they could be had for barely more than a pocket full of change and without a moment’s hesitation from the clerk no matter your age.

Those were the days.

I was lucky to be a teen in the late eighties and enjoyed my fair share of horror fiction back then, although in those pre-internet days there was such limited information available anywhere about pulp horror that buying a paperback was frequently a leap of faith based on little more than a glorious cover and a blurb on the back, a leap that more often led to crushing disappointment rather than a hidden gem.

But there were gems, those books of unexpected greatness and perfectly perverse pleasures that kept us coming back again and again, full of hope for just one more. Even if a book turned out to be a stinker at least the cover looked cool as hell on the nightstand.

My path to becoming the fan of vintage horror fiction that I am today wasn’t straightforward. Even though initially reared in a very sheltered environment, I loved spooky tales from a very young age. My brother Adam and I would scour the library for anything dark and unusual that we were allowed to get our hands on. Fortunately, books that were viewed as “classics” slipped through the filters of our censors. As a result we devoured such great foundational horror as Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson and Shirley Jackson. Little did we know at the time that we taking exactly the right classes for our horror education. An occasional episode of the Twilight Zone here and there pushed me further towards my current direction.

Around the age of 15 (1987-88) I was finally granted the freedom to pursue most any entertainment I saw fit, and the timing couldn’t have been better to enjoy the golden age of horror paperbacks. Being a typical teenager, I had little lasting affection for the books I’d buy and simply passed them along for others to enjoy once I finished. With adult life intervening during the mid-nineties and beyond, my focus shifted much more towards writing horror than reading it.

It was really only during my initial forays into publishing towards the end of 2011 that I became aware of the massive volume of pulp horror that had been released during the late 80’s and early 90’s, and then again during the 2000s (a renaissance which I completely missed at the time, probably due to a houseful of kids).

At some point over the last few years, I got the idea to attempt to assemble a complete collection of mass market horror paperbacks from the modern golden age of horror. Abandoned collections are being donated to thrift and used book stores at increasing rates for bargain-bin prices these days, and this bolstered my (inaccurate) belief that amassing a complete collection of 80’s horror paperbacks would be a fairly simple feat to accomplish (it hasn’t been), and would give me an invaluable reference library for my own ongoing endeavors as a horror author (it has).

I have a sneaking suspicion that these 80’s horror titles are being discarded at such an alarming rate right now that quite a few of them will likely become rare and valuable collectibles before too long. Some titles have already spiked in price over the last couple of years, particularly novelizations of 80s horror films.

Even after several years of dedicated collecting and cataloguing, I still don’t have a firm grasp on exactly how many mass market horror paperbacks have been released since 1980, but the number is well over 10,000 for certain. My own personal paperback collection is hovering around the 5,000 mark, and is still far from comprehensive. It’s gratifying to know that many of the books in my library have been found for a dollar (and often much less).

Everyone has a compulsion, some call it a vice, something to help occupy the part of our brains that would otherwise be incessantly wrought with worry and drive us to insanity. Some people fix that part of their mind with drink or drugs. Some watch television or play games.

To each his own.

Personally, I enjoy collecting, reading and writing horror fiction.

Could be worse, I suppose.

Collecting is an odd thing, an uncomfortably close relative to hoarding but separated from it by a tenuous gap of alphabetization and being able to walk through a room unhindered. Perhaps a self-justification but I consider myself not a collector, but rather a preserver. A protector of what has come before. The beauty of the technology books represent is that they require no electricity to read, have no software to become obsolete. So many items in a technological civilization evaporate into junk and are rapidly discarded as they lose value and purpose, but a book can provide a window into the mind of its author for as long as eyes remain to read it. A book is a slice of consciousness set down in ink, moments in time frozen and preserved.

Storytelling is a form of magic, and books are perhaps the most comprehensive form of immortality that exists.

But what about those glorious cheesy 80’s horror covers? What makes them particularly special?

There is so much talent on display by mostly unsung artists on the covers from this era, it is sad that so few of them were ever (or ever will be) credited. Tracking down who is the creator of what can be exceedingly difficult, especially for publications released prior to the digital age from publishers that no longer exist. It’s truly a pity.

Personally, I’m drawn to covers that possess the capability to reach across the room and command your attention, covers that use a thrilling burst of color to draw you in and reward closer examination with a wealth of hidden detail. Beautiful foil and embossing each provide a special kind of cheap thrill, and perhaps if you’re lucky you’ll find a second glorious painting peeking through a cleverly placed step-back hole carved in the cover. The story told on these magnificently garish covers is often completely unrelated to the tale that unfolds between them. In many cases the cover provides more fulfillment than the story inside, and that’s fine by me. Sometimes a great cover is enough. Other times, less frequently for certain, both the cover and the book prove to be a forgotten jewel. That’s when things get glorious. That’s what keeps me searching.

Even though horror fiction as a genre has seen it fortunes fall significantly since those high cotton days, it’s still alive, still fighting to make a full comeback. Fans new and old find themselves awash in more books than could ever be read in a lifetime, all the thousands that have come before, all the new books that are coming still.

Here you’ve seen some of my favorite cheesy horror covers. Let me know in the comments which of your favorites I’ve missed!

 

About Evans Light

Evans Light is a writer of horror and suspense, and is the author of Screamscapes: Tales of Terror, Arboreatum, Don’t Need No Water and more. He is co-creator of the Bad Apples Halloween anthology series and Dead Roses: Five Dark Tales of Twisted Love.

Evans lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, surrounded by thousands of vintage horror paperbacks. He is editor-in-chief and co-owner of Corpus Press, which specializes in original horror and weird fiction. He is the proud father of fine sons and the lucky husband of a beautiful wife.

More information on Evans and his work can be found at the following links:

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Evans-Light/e/B0075WB5WI

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5816392.Evans_Light

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Top Five Books That Scared the Bejesus Out of Me

Aren’t the holidays a great time to snuggle under the blankets and watch your favorite scary movie? Or curl up with a horror novel? I sure think so. Of course, I love horror for any occasion. I watch, read, and write horror all the time. Yet rarely does a written story actually scare me. Sure, suspense gets me whipping through pages. Nasty images haunt me. Narratives thrill me. But few books truly frighten me. Many of you have assured me that I’m not alone in that regard, but while that gives blessed comfort, I still wish that stories and novels terrified me the same visceral way that movies can. Bemoaning my state got me thinking about the cherished few books that did scare me. One thing is for certain, when the written word frightens, it packs a wallop! Here, then, is a list of books that have scared me silly.

CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD

1. Ray Garton’s The Loveliest Dead

This novel is a tour de force of fright. Kids are creepy anyway, am I right? Dead kids even more so. Garton turns his masterful mind to the ghosts of abused children and the spirit of one horrible predator. Quirky but relatable characters add the spark of reality that’s the framework for suspension of disbelief when the crazy happens get going. He captures the fear of dark basements and puts us right there in the middle of it. His suspense hits the perfect pitch. The images he creates are depraved—in the best sense. This is the horror novel as its best. Every time the ghosts rose up, I sank down further in bed, pausing to listen to the noises of the house creak around me. This book made me paranoid about what might be in the other room or just beyond my bedroom windows. Garton nearly changed my mind about reading just before bed. The Loveliest Dead is exactly what I want out of a scary story. Almost more than I bargained for.

 

2. Josh Malerman’s Bird Box

Right out of the gate, Malerman steeped me in unbearable paranoia. Just what I want out of a suspenseful read! Bird Box is a prime example of horror without blood and guts. Instead of solid nightmare images, the entire book is the even better elixir of persistent dread. I read this over the course of a day and half, and every moment of that time, I felt like in was on a roller coaster as it sets out slowly climbing to the apex before dropping. Chugging unrelentingly forward, the book weaves a macabre spell. I needed to take a short break from the story because every little sound around me set my nerves screaming. What Malerman achieves in Bird Box is as refreshing as it is astounding. He takes away our sense of sight and infuses every little sound with terror.

 

3. Jay Anson’s The Amityville Horror

One of my favorite scary movies of all time. I found the book at my used book store (this was many blood moons ago), and thought it would be a fun read. Fun? Even for me, this book redefined that term. Granted, haunted house stories are my weakness, but I hadn’t—and still haven’t—experienced this must terror while reading about things going bump in the night. That the events really happened (insert debate about the Lutzes and arguments about hoaxes and money-making schemes) added a layer of intensity that just about drove me crazy with fright! It’s a horrifying account of the spirits and noises and all the foul things that befell this family in their new house—the most famous house in horror. The scene where a malicious presence materialized at the foot of the boy’s bed haunts me to this day. Just thinking about it, I’ll need a nightlight tonight.

 

4. Bentley Little’s The Haunted

As with the Poltergeist movie, it’s Little’s characters and family drama that set the hook for The Haunted. Once I cared about these people, all he had to do was reel me in with an increasingly frightening series of events. And not just scary, but truly bizarre events and compulsions in the best Bentley Little tradition. The clincher for me was all that weirdness in the loft. That had a particular edge to it that worked into my psyche. It helped that at one crucial point, a loud crash out in my hallway sent me investigating. Other people in the house had heard it, but nothing had been disturbed. I’ve always wondered if the power of the prose conjured a presence!

 

5. Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game.

Yes, the king of horror has given me literal nightmares for years. Intense plots, complex characters, and suspense with gruesome surprises make him one of my favorite authors of all time. But when I turn out the lights, I’m not scared of Pennywise or Cujo or Barlow. As harrowing as a King novel can be, they don’t leave me frightened as I walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Until Gerald’s Game. Not the book as a whole, just a section. But what a section! When that freak finds our heroine handcuffed to the bed and stares down at her. Just stands there. Watching. Reminiscent of the malefic force appearing at the bedside of children in The Amityville Horror. It’s one of those moments where I had to put the book down and listen careful… Were those footsteps in the other room that I just heard?

There you have it—the five books that frightened me beyond the limits of reason. What are some of yours? I can't wait to hear about them! Until next time, stay dark my friends, and stay out of the attic… and the basement… and the garage…

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

My Paranormal Experiences by Pedro Iniguez

The horror writer at work

The horror writer at work

As a Horror writer, your job is to disturb or unsettle your readers while sometimes giving them something to think about. Usually that’s done by drawing from the darker aspects of life or imagination in the hopes that you can more or less convince your audience that there may be something out there lurking in the shadows. It’s a bit of a tricky thing to pull off though, as not too many people readily believe in things like the supernatural.  “Write what you know,” is the old saying, but how can you do that if you’ve never seen a ghost? Or a demon? How do you describe something so unbelievable to a non-believer?

When it comes to the paranormal, I find myself in a unique position. Since I was a child I’ve encountered numerous supernatural occurrences. Even now at 30 years old I occasionally see things I can’t explain. Some say I’m drawn to it; others have told me I’m a medium. Who knows? All I can do is share what I’ve seen and let people make up their own minds. Perhaps someone out there has shared some similar experiences. 

Now, before you say anything, no, I’m not making this up and no, these experiences didn’t traumatize me and turn me into some demented writer. I’m an average person with average thoughts and average problems (work, too many bills, missed deadlines, etc.).

I hereby share some of the crazier things that have happened throughout my life, in chronological order. This isn’t the whole list (that would take forever) but included are the most notable ones.

The farmhouse across the street

The farmhouse across the street

My first experience occurred when I was around 7 or 8. I was at my friend’s house, which happened to be on a cul-de-sac. We were playing hide-and-go-seek, and the rules were that we could hide anywhere in the house except outside, as that would be cheating. Naturally, I decided to cheat and ran outside. I saw a tall Caucasian man in farmer overalls walking across the street, except he was semi-transparent and had a slight bluish glow to him. I was frozen in fear and felt all the little hairs on the back of my neck get all prickly. After a few seconds I turned tail and ran back inside. Years later I discovered that a mortuary sat at the foot of the street, which I was oblivious to as a child. Also, many years later I also discovered that Eagle Rock, the town that I live in, also used to be a farming community in the early 20th century.

When I was about 9 or 10, I lay awake in bed one night and saw what looked like the grim reaper phase through my bedroom wall and into my bathroom. Only thing was that the reaper was covered in white not black clothing. This happened a total of three times within the month. Mind you, I was awake and fully conscious during this. Unfortunately nobody else witnessed the sight.

My grandfather passed way in 2005, if I remember correctly. On the night of his death, two of my cousins—in two different towns in Mexico—had the same dream: My grandfather, dressed in a white suit, walked towards his recently dug grave. He told them that he was at peace. That’s where their dreams ended. Word got back to my relatives later the next day. About a week after that, I had trouble sleeping. My sister and I shared the same bedroom, and I turned to her to see if she was awake. I saw my grandfather materialize in a white suit directly in front of me. He had the same bluish/transparent glow of the old farmer’s ghost. I could see through him and see my sister sleeping. He told me that he was at peace and in a great place before he started to phase out. I said, "Wait!" and he reappeared and replied, "What is it?" I said, "I miss you," and he replied, "I miss you, too." He then faded away. I was fully alert and awake for all of this. No sleep paralyses, nothing.

One evening in March of 2007 I was on the phone with my then-girlfriend. I had the sudden urge to look outside my bedroom window where I witnessed a basketball-sized ball of light hovering in my backyard. It was blue and radiated very little light outward, like a self-contained light. It zigzagged in ways no modern aircraft could do. I didn't feel a sense of fear, though. I felt as if it were simply observing. I was shocked and yelled, "What the hell is that?" That's when the ball of light arched into the night sky and zapped out of view. I ran outside to catch another glimpse of the UFO, but it was gone.  My family ran after me and asked what happened. After I explained what I’d seen, I got the usual scoff of nonbelief.

Summer of 2007. I lay on the couch around 2AM, trouble sleeping, staring at the ceiling. I began to close my eyes when I felt a heavy hand slam down on my left pectoral from behind.  When I looked, there was nothing there. I tried to sit up, but the invisible hand pushed me back down. Hard. I tried to scream, but no words escaped my mouth. Numbness spread across my body. I was raised Catholic but consider myself an agnostic, but at that moment I began to pray the Lord’s Prayer in silence. I heard loud hissing from behind me, and the creature loosened its grip until it was gone. Then and there I felt an aura of power and peace surround me like never before. I relaxed into sleep and thought perhaps it was just one of those sleep paralyses/ succubus moments I’d read about. I awoke the next morning to shower, and as I took my shirt off saw a large hand print on my pectoral, made by a hand far bigger than mine or anyone in my family. Luckily, that event never traumatized me. I felt at peace after that night.

Two years ago, my girlfriend and I took in a newborn Chihuahua into our family. His eyes were still shut, and we nursed him for about a month. He was expected to open his eyes in about another two weeks. I came home tired from work and crashed on my girlfriend’s bed while she cared for the pup. I knocked out and fell into a deep sleep. I suddenly woke and looked at my girlfriend and said, "He's going to open his eyes today." I immediately fell back asleep. I awoke a few hours later and soon after the pup opened both eyes.

Marie Laveau's tomb

Marie Laveau's tomb

In 2014 my girlfriend and I visited New Orleans. We were on a haunted tour visiting Saint Louis cemetery (where the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau is laid to rest). We lagged behind the rest of the group because my girlfriend was busy snapping pictures. We walked past a particular tomb, and I told my girlfriend that I had a bad feeling all of a sudden. We came to find out later that tomb belonged to a notorious con-man and killer from long ago.  On the last day of our trip, while my girlfriend slept, I once again had trouble sleeping. I stood and stared out the window of our hotel. An orange orb of light hovered in and around the sky rises like the blue ball from many years before! It didn’t have the drone of any toy aircraft, and nothing maneuvers like that.

The closet with strange noises 

The closet with strange noises 

About a year ago I was in my girlfriend’s house. It was late at night, and I couldn’t sleep (I tend to have trouble sleeping as you can see) so stared off into the darkness when a shadow figure—all black, head to toe—tiptoed across the room. He spotted me and crouched at the foot of the bed, disappearing into the dark. Now this was near her closet, where we both hear random scratching and knocking coming from the inside on occasion. This has been going on for two years since she moved there. Even she hears the knocking from within the closet.

I’ve encountered a broad range of experiences throughout my life ranging from premonitions, communication with the departed, demon attacks, and UFOs. Surprisingly, none of these events had any real bearing on my desire to be a writer. But having all those experiences to draw from doesn’t hurt when trying to shape my fiction. After all, it is said that all fiction has some kernel of truth to it. With mine, the truth leans toward the supernatural. As scary as that is.

Pedro Iniguez lives in Eagle Rock, California just outside the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. Besides writing, he has a love of film, comics, and books. His cyberpunk novel Control Theory is due to be released in the Fall from Indie Authors Press. 

Find Pedro Iniguez on Amazon:

                                                                    https://www.amazon.com/author/pedroiniguez

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Top Six Halloween-Themed Flicks by Michael Schutz

Nope. Not gonna limit this to a top five. What is this obsession with rounded-off lists? If you follow the Darkness Dwells podcast—and if you’re here, I sure hope you do—you know my lists are filled with honorable mentions, anyway. So let’s get it on!

look behind you!

look behind you!

Autumn's unique spookiness has come. Skies go gray. Darkness comes early. Trees shed their leaves, which in turn scrape along the sidewalk like witches’ nails at your door. "Recently Added" scary films fill up our streaming services. It’s a horror lover’s Christmas. This year, I’m not only watching horror movies, but feasting my nerve endings on movies about our greatest holiday. Here are my personal top six movies about Halloween.

the night bugs ate your brain

the night bugs ate your brain

6. Season of the Witch

No, not the Nicholas Cage tripe. I’m talking Halloween III, the sequel that (in)famously departed entirely from the budding franchise. There’s a lot of hate for this movie because of the lack of Michael Myers, but if you scrub the weird Halloween III nonsense from the back of your mind, Season of the Witch can really satisfy. The movie has a cool David Cronenberg feel. It’s one of the few movies that happily kills a kid during its runtime, with the threat—nay, knowledge—that many more little body bags will be filling up soon. Happy, Halloween… Halloween… Halloween. Happy, happy Halloween… Silver Shamrock!

don't sit so close!

don't sit so close!

What's the big deal? They're only pumpkins. 

What's the big deal? They're only pumpkins. 

5. Tales of Halloween Another Halloween descends upon Anytown, USA, and the freaks, ghouls, and demons roam the streets. With ten segments, this anthology film plays more like a miniature ABCs of Death than tighter collections than, say, Trick ’r Treat. As such, I found that a few of the stories were clunkers. Of course, that’s the beauty of having so many—what I don’t like, another viewer will love. Don’t get me wrong, characters show up in different segments, and references are made to other goings-on we’ve seen, so there is a unifying thread. Just about all of these tales are horror/comedy, for all their blood and viciousness, which maybe you’ll like more than I did. Overall, this is a great way to spend an hour and a half, and another costumed youngling gets added to the growing body count of this list. Also that little “twick-o-tweat” alien is adorable.

Jesus is satan!

Jesus is satan!

4. Satan’s Little Helper An extremely low budget and inexperienced cast (except for the big name star on this project, Amanda Plummer) don’t hamper the effectiveness of this creepy Halloween nightmare one bit. In fact, writer/director Jeff Lieberman uses these production limitations to his advantage and creates an experience that feels like it’s happening to people we know. It’s like combat journalism right there at the front. Gritty. Now, Satan’s Little Helper is decidedly a horror/comedy, but it falls on the dark side of humor. Like, pitch black. This is what stranger danger is all about, folks! Blasphemous glee abounds even before Jesus shows up at the door with bloody palms.

Kids with burlap sacks over their heads are terrifying 

Kids with burlap sacks over their heads are terrifying 

3. Hellions If you haven’t heard of this one, you’re not alone. Not many people do, unless you regularly take Netflix’s pulse, so to speak. Hellions is a freaky little movie, but it packs a big wallop. What strikes me most about this one is how well it constructs the dramatic skeleton on which all the flesh and blood of the horror hangs. Truly impressive. Great writing and performances create a young woman in trouble. The dialog between her and her doctor in the beginning is commendable. Usually with these cheap, small horror and thriller movies, real-life situations come off stilted. This scene works, as does the later conversation between her and her mother. Again, it’s an exchange that rings true. It also gives great glimpses at the family dynamic, shades in our heroine, and adds an elegant backstory to the mother. All of this results in a verisimilitude which bolsters our suspension of disbelief through the coming nightmare. Hellions explodes like a piñata filled with Halloween candy! Creepy kids, spooky dolls, blood, surrealism, and home invasion horror meld together in a whacked out tapestry of horror.

it stinks like a dead whore out here

it stinks like a dead whore out here

2. Trick ’r Treat This movie burst onto the scene in 2007 and became the new Halloween classic. In Crypt Keeper comic-book anthology style, the movie shows the weird and scary happenings in Warren Valley, Ohio on a particular Halloween night. With characters from different segments bumping into each other or passing through the frame, Trick ’r Treat has a terrific connected feel, where I felt Tales of Halloween fell a little short. Each segment engages the audience with suspense and scares and a good amount of violence and dread. Yet a sense of ghoulish fun runs through the whole movie as well. Great surprises—and even more paedocide. For as darkly gleeful as Trick ’r Treat is, it pulls no punches.

Death has come to your town.

Death has come to your town.

1. Halloween John Carpenter’s classic slasher flick about the night HE came home stands immutable in the top slot. I know it’s about as surprising as Thriller taking the number one best video in every MTV countdown, but this horror classic deserves all the praise. Halloween ushered in the golden age of American slasher flicks, became the first slasher franchise, and introduced a musical score that is synonymous with horror and All Hallows’ Eve. Carpenter created this horror masterpiece with suggestions of gore, but kept the blood as cleverly absent as the missing slicing and dicing of Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Using that inside-out Shatner mask truly did give all of us 70s and 80s kids a blank screen on which to project all our fears. Michael Myers reigns supreme as the Emperor of Halloween.

It is the boogeyman.

It is the boogeyman.

There you have it—my personal Halloween favorites. What would you add? Anything else you think should conquer the top spot? Let me know! I’m off to watch House of 1,000 Corpses (for the umpteenth time) and She Who Must Burn. And to eat all the Halloween candy myself. Stay dark, my friends, and enjoy your tricks and treats!

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Author Spotlight: Josh Matthews and Hell Gate

By Josh Matthews

I admit it. I’m a horror and science fiction junkie. Zombies, vampires, kaiju, giant insects, sharknadoes, big monsters… I enjoy it all. My wife jokes that I’ll watch anything, which is true. However, if I was forced to pick my favorite subgenre, the one I enjoy reading and writing the most, it would be apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.

I’m not snobbish about my apocalyptic fiction. It doesn’t matter how society is destroyed or what becomes of it as long as it’s the end of days. Of course, I enjoy a good zombie apocalypse or a world ravaged by natural disasters, and I’m fascinated by the cautionary tales of nuclear war from On the Beach to The Day After. The stark realism of The Road is just as intriguing as the barbaric, action-packed landscapes of The Road Warrior or Mad Max: Fury Road or the post-apocalyptic dystopian societies of The Hunger Games and Snowpiercer. Sure, in almost every case the genre is dark and depressing. Yet in most works in the genre, I always see a glimmer of light in the gloom because there are survivors, and as long as some of us are alive we can rebuild society. Apocalyptic fiction appeals to me because it represents a reset button. In one massive, destructive, world-encompassing event everyone on Earth is now equal. We’re not divided by wealth, status, or national origin. Race, religion, and sexual orientation become irrelevant. All that matters is surviving the holocaust and the type of society that emerges from the ashes.

That’s the world I strive to create in the Hell Gate series. Sixteen-year-old Jason McCreary is trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by demons from Hell, demons that are here because his mother opened gates into the underworld during a scientific experiment that went wrong. Through the course of the series, Jason and a small group of adventurers travel the world attempting to close these portals. Once on the road, they discover an environment more frightening than anything they could have imagined and demons more terrifying than they had encountered before. Through it all, Jason struggles to keep his humanity and his sense of what is right as he battles all sorts of monsters from Hell, knowing that the decisions he makes now will affect the outcome of the world’s future.

If you’re a fan of end of the world fiction, or if you just enjoy seeing the world overrun by all sorts of demons and monsters, then please check out the Hell Gate saga. I’ll see you at the apocalypse.

 

Josh Matthews is a former New Englander who now lives in north Florida with his wife, teenage daughter, and four lovable but exasperating pets. Josh used to work for the U.S. Government where he had the opportunity to travel around the world and be exposed to numerous cultures, many of which will appear in the Hell Gate saga. He has always been a fan of horror novels and monster movies, and sees the Hell Gate saga as his way to share that love with a new generation of fans.

Website:  http://hellgatesaga.blogspot.com/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/HellGateSaga/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/HellGateSaga

 

 

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Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Why Gay Fiction?

By J. Daniel Stone

So. Gay Fiction.

 Why do those gays always want to disturb normality? Utopia was just fine before alternative lifestyles demanded equality. 

 What is Gay Fiction (capitals intended) after all? Said character is attracted to the same sex, right? Said character lives her/his life as a member of the LGBTQ community, right? Those are not the sole definitions, obviously. I can go on for pages and pages about what gay fiction should or should not include, how a responsible writer should or should not cover gay characters. Because fiction writers, after all, are mere reporters of reality, shaping its malleable meat for the entertainment of the reader. But remember, we are reporting. And as far as horror goes, my good friend Kathe Koja says it best: “The real world is stranger than anything anybody will ever come up with, and things happen in the real world that you cannot do in fiction.” Let that simmer a bit.

 Speaking of reality, I have a newsflash. The LGBTQ community exists! They are real people who undergo all the same strife and wonders of life as you do. Yeah, you! Cis-gendered, heterosexual reader. They love and hate, eat and breath. They have sex; they have families of their own. They contribute to the better good of society, and sometimes to the not so better good, natch. So why do we show up so infrequently in fiction, and specifically for this post horror fiction? Is it the small number of our population? Is it that the writers who are writing have no gay people in their lives? Is it that they turn a blind eye to us? Is it the old "write what you know" technique? Well, let me just drive home my point.

 Readers frequently ask me the same three questions:

 1. Why write about gay characters? We can't relate.

2. Why write about gay sex?

3. Does gay and horror mix?

 And I do my best to answer them:

 1. Because I’m gay, and a person, and I exist. So you will find people like me in my work. Oh, you can't relate? Well, I can't relate to the life of hoarders or Bravolebrities, but I have an open mind that wants to learn and observe to better myself. Why not try that?

2. Sex? Because we all have it! Stop the nonsense. Thanks!

3. Gay and horror mix perfectly. A genre that can't be easily classified and a sexual orientation that defies complacency. What doesn't mix about that?

 So there you have it, folks. Gay people exist. We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders and orientations. Try to include us. We aren't going anywhere.

 

J. Daniel Stone is the pseudonym for a hotheaded Italian kid from NYC. He has been a menace to society since 1987 and has, at various times, prepared bodies for the morgue, broke up fights between gerbils and used fire to change the color of the carpet in his bedroom. These days he can be found terrorizing local book stores, art galleries and dive bars boasting about his two bastard children: The Absence of Light (2013) and Blood Kiss (2016). Somewhere, out there in the dark, one can find more of his illegitimate spawns at places like Grey Matter Press, Icarus: The Magazine of Gay Speculative Fiction, Blood Bound Books, Prime Books, Crowded Quarantine Publications and more. In 2016, readers selected his work to be featured in DREAD--THE VERY BEST OF GREY MATTER PRESS. 

Find him on Livejournal and Twitter @SolitarySpiral

Comment

Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Martyrs 2016... Really?!

The original 2008 French Martyrs shot to the top of my favorites lists before the credits ran. That film shatters expectations and flies out there on the edge of storytelling and filmmaking. Eachmoment when I thought I’d figured out where the movie was headed, the story turned in a new direction. Every shift elevated the suspense and upped the stakes. More than gore, more than overall dread, the film wrapped me into a complete experience. Like all great art, the film changed me. Enlightenment had dawned and crushed my soul. Jason and I even podcasted about it here:

http://www.wheredarknessdwells.com/darkness-dwells-podcast/2015/6/2/episode-05-martyrs-2008

I came to this American remake with some skepticism, but honestly, for the most part I kept an open mind. For my troubles, this lame attempt crushed my spirit.

Okay, so I enjoyed the first quarter. Drawing out the relationship between Anna and Lucie worked well. Not better than the clever way the original sped through this front matter to deliver us into the heart of the film, but I’ll call this opening a draw.

The first killing spree really sparked my hopes. I figured that if the Goetz brothers had the pluck to murder the whole family, then they just might deliver an awesome remake all the way through.

But the movie quickly fell apart.

I'll give you something to cry about

I'll give you something to cry about

First of all, Anna needed to shut up and stop crying. That worked my nerves. The movie meandered through too much, What are we going to do now? for my taste. Here the American esthetic started tearing through the careful weave of writer/director Pascal Laugier’s 2008 film. It’s never enough to show peril and let the characters struggle—let alone show fortitude. Lots of moaning and groaning and pointed conversations about Do you believe me? I don’t know if I believe you. That back-and-forth added nothing. That’s the film equivalent of a bad writer “telling” instead of “showing”.

But let’s get to the underground chamber, shall we? It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

Who was better?

Who was better?

Anna finds the imprisoned young girl, Sam, and the weight of American clunkiness buckles the foundation of Laugier’s elegant original film. Remember how you felt during in the 2008 film when you saw that poor woman, hardly even human anymore? She’d been broken by inexplicable torture. The steel restraints had dug into her head so badly that we had that incredible Cabin Fever moment when the removal of the metal peels off the skin. Were you as off-balance at that point as I was? Not in this remake. Little Sam is none the worse for wear. Chained in a room with some smudges on her face. How kind of these nameless torturers to pad the restraints so the metal doesn’t chafe her wrists.

Things devolved from there.

The original evoked a sense of despair, of utter desolation when Anna finds herself alone, captured. Her good deed in helping her friend has damned her. No one will rescue her. But this redesigned film muddies all those pure emotions. We have three young women in peril now. Without a single heroine, our allegiances are divided. It’s horrible what’s happening to Lucie, yet we feel relief that Anna is unharmed, though imprisoned. And nothing at all is happening to little Samantha. So the visceral and immediate horror instilled by the original has been erased.

Laugier’s film took us through every step of the cult’s enlightenment ritual. We felt every punch, every humiliation just as Anna felt it. Her captors had no rage, took no pleasure from the beatings. The torture was a job, efficient and methodical and all the more horrible for it. In this new version, a mishmash of terrible things happens to a character at least partially removed from our sympathies—because Anna acts as a filter for the experience. We are not allowed to experience the punishment.

Thank god you don't have steel stuck in your face

Thank god you don't have steel stuck in your face

Being an American film, Martyrs 2016 needs to feature a rescue attempt. Are we so fragile that we can’t handle nihilism? Empathy formed the basis of the original’s success. We felt Anna’s hopelessness. This version, like almost all American movies, is propelled by hope. American endings are either relief as the hope pays off, or cathartic despair as the hope fails (and you’ll only find that in independent films). I suppose that’s a reflection of our American dream. Beginning in earlier childhood, hope is kindled in every American’s heart—work hard (or at least find an edge over the rest of the suckers) and get rich, move on up, be successful. Foreign films have the upper hand here, as their writers and directors understand the concept of hopelessness. I daresay that Europeans have a richer and tougher history. Just about every country’s national consciousness includes years of conquest. Generations struggled and died under tyrannical rule. As a result, Europeans seem to have a concept of happiness with being who they are, where they are. Steinbeck once said that the American poor “see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” That hopeful-to-the-point-of-delusional mindset translates into our films, and it’s just not the correct philosophy for darker films. That’s why so many American horror films are trash. It’s like none of us understand the concept that life doesn’t get better. Again, in independent film we can find more realistic despair because those filmmakers know about poverty and struggle. They don’t have a budget of millions of dollars and paychecks whether or not their film succeeds.

The French Martyrs features a climax and denouement of meted-out revelations, each more shocking than the previous. The American Martyrs has a shoot-out. The subtlety of the original is corrupted; the integrity disregarded and shat upon. The French film’s coup d'état is shorthanded into frenzied bloodshed. The delicate final moment of the film is blurted out by a minor character, lost in the confusion of violence.

Martyrs 2016 shows everything that is wrong with American cinema. There had to be the sense of a buddy-film. The rescue attempt. The final shoot-out. The sensibilities of the French version are ignored. The emotional impact is thrown aside in favor of a big finish. Instead of pointed, deliberate violence we have the typical American presentation of throw-everything-at-’em. Such a disappointment. Stay dark my friends... and stay away from this one.

Comment

Michael Schutz

Michael Schutz was born and raised in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, where the macabre tales of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King kept him warm at night. He’s seen way too many horror movies to be healthy and blogs and podcasts about them on Darkness Dwells. Watch for his new novel, Edging, from Burning Willow Press in spring 2017. He is the author of the novel Blood Vengeance and the novella Uninoch. His short fiction has been featured most recently in Dark Moon Digest, Sanitarium, and the anthologies Beasts: Revelations, Beyond the Nightlight, and Cranial Leakage: Tales from the Grinning Skull. He lives with his three naughty cat-children in northern California. 

Contest!

If you've been listening to the show, then you know that we've been talking a lot about the latest Crystal Lake Publishing anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories. Now's your chance to win a copy of the anthology along other books by some of the authors who have recently appeared on the show. To win, all you have to do is tell us of your love for The Darkness Dwells Podcast. Details below.
 

The Prizes


3rd place: an ebook copy of Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories.

2nd place: ebook copies of Gutted, Little Dead Red by Mercedes M. Yardley, Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters, and We are Monsters by Brian Kirk. 

1st place: The Physical copy of Gutted along with all ebooks in 2nd place.

How to Win:

Send feedback for the Darkness Dwells Podcast and tell us how we're doing in one or all three ways listed below. The more you participate the better your chances are of winning.

1. Email your feedback to darknessdwells74@gmail.com and tell us what you like about the show. This will get your name into the drawing hat once.

2. Email a mp3 of your voice to darknessdwells74@gmail.com and verbally tell us your thoughts. This method will get your name into the drawing hat twice.

3. Write a review on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you subscribe to Darkness Dwells and take a screenshot of said review once it's live. Email the screenshot. to darknessdwells74@gmail.com. This will get your name into the drawing hat three times.

4. Do all three and get your name entered into the hat four times!

All entries will be read/played on the show.

As always, thanks for listening and reading!

5 Amazing Things To Do With A Superpower

by Kerry Alan Denney aka The Reality Bender, author of

Marionettes, Dreamweavers, Jagannath, and Soulsnatcher

What would you do with a superpower? Well, for starters, let’s pick just one... an unusual one, as far as powers and superheroes go.

For the sake of convenience—and shameless self-promotion on my part—let’s choose the power that David Flint has. David is the protagonist and first-person narrator in my forthcoming supernatural thriller Marionettes (Juju Mojo Publications – May 31, 2016).

David is resuscitated after drowning in a flood, and returns to the land of the living with an uncanny ability: He can “jump” into other people’s bodies and minds, and control their thoughts and actions. In essence, David “becomes” that person, taking over their every voluntary physical function—and leaving his vacated body vulnerable while he controls that person. He can control anyone within a six-mile radius from his own body, basically making anyone he jumps into become his human puppet. Any distance farther than six miles from his temporarily vacated body, David loses control and returns to his own body.

After discovering his new ability, David thinks of himself as the Marionette Man. He reads his human puppets’ minds, knows their every thought, their past experiences, their familiarity with their family, friends, associates, and acquaintances, and is totally in control of their bodies and minds as if he is them until he leaves them and returns to his own body. If he chooses, during the time he’s controlling them, he can let them know they’re being completely co-opted and manipulated—or he can hide his presence from them, leaving them terrified and wondering why they’re doing and thinking things beyond their influence.

Pretty frightening, huh? To totally lose control of your own body and mind, and know that another has taken over your every physical and mental function. Would some people believe it to be a form of demonic possession? Talk about a waking nightmare!

 In DREAMWEAVERS, anything can happen when dreams merge with reality... including murder.

So what could a person do with this awesome power David has? Let’s start with David’s own list of 5 amazing things.

 1: Take the Bad Guys Down

With David’s power, you could infiltrate gangs, cartels, and evil corporations without their knowledge or awareness. If you can’t realistically start from the top, gradually work your way into the upper echelon. From a safe distance, perform covert reconnaissance into the group you wish to destroy, “jump” into the body and mind of any flunky at any level of the group, and climb—or rather body-jump—your way to the top. If you wish, kill the ruthless human detritus as you go. If your puppet is attacked, compromised, or killed, jump into the person who’s disabling your puppet and move on up.

With power-mongering corporations—such as big pharmaceutical companies or Big Oil, for just two examples among many—finagle your way into the top dog and force them to reveal their secrets to the whole world. Make them send out bulk emails containing crucial evidence of their illegal activities and unethical or immoral business procedures to the police, FBI, Homeland Security, and any and all applicable law enforcement agencies. Hell, make them send those emails to the general public, so there would be no way that any corrupt officials within those law enforcement agencies could hide it from us—you and me, my friends. Make those corrupt individuals, gang leaders, mob and drug cartel bosses, and wicked executives hold official publicly announced press conferences in which they lay it all out—with indisputable evidence of their wrongdoings—on camera, a method where they can’t take it back after the deed is done and after you’ve returned control of their bodies and minds to them. Make them post videos of the exclusive reveals on YouTube. Talk about giving the evil subhuman scum among us a dose of their own medicine! The internal conflicts alone that would spring from such an invasion would effectively make them crumble into ruin without our further outside interference. Public accountability would eventually become the norm, impossible to avoid or evade.

The only thing David Flint doesn’t know—and is afraid to find out the hard way—is if his mind will die and not be able to return to his body if he’s killed while controlling one of his human marionettes. So extreme caution is advised in life-or-death situations: Be ready to jump into someone else if you think your current marionette is about to take the eternal celestial dirt nap.

 2: Level the Political Arena

Whether we all admit it to ourselves, to our families, our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues, and even our enemies—or don’t admit it, and continue to hide in pathetic denial—we all know by now that our political leaders are corrupt across the board. They no longer have the best interests of humanity in mind in their continual struggle to achieve more power, more riches, and yes, more control over the masses over which they preside. Because of them, too much killing has been done in the name of deities, power-mongering, the acquisition of territory, and the despicable and barbaric lust to subjugate the masses. There’s that control factor again. These people are the greatest poison to humanity that could ever be imagined. The time has come to turn the tables against them, in the most drastic fashion.

With the expert assistance of a cadre of benevolent and compassionate Marionette Masters, we could invade the minds of our political leaders—both despots and supposed humanitarians—and force them to reveal all their secret agendas to the whole world. Such a global exposition of nefarious vendettas would force even the most ignorant of people’s eyes and minds to open. OPEC and their affiliates need to die the horrible death they so richly deserve so that the brilliant scientists of our world can no longer be stifled or stymied under their autocratic authority, and can work together to develop the clean and ever-replenishing power source that heretofore has lain just beyond our grasp because of a small percentage of the world’s tyrants’ desperate and contemptible desire for dominion.

Of course, if our hypothetical Marionette Masters were corrupt, we could be in for a whole new world of calamity. Therein lies the rub: Humanity, in its oh-so-brief geological infancy, is plagued with the barbaric desires of the worst of our kind. An infusion of collective awareness, through the help of those who could invade, read, and share our very thoughts with our fellow humans, could possibly be the best deterrent to such an unmitigated disaster—and could even prevent our extinction.

Okay, I’m hopping off my lofty pedestal now. I’d just like you, my fellow humans, to know that I trust and have faith in the best of us to bring out the best in us.

 In JAGANNATH, an intelligent shape-shifting alien reads the minds of the humans it absorbs, and transforms into monsters from our darkest nightmares.

3: Cure Terminal Diseases

What an amazing feat it would be for several of our Marionette Masters to hop into the minds of the most accomplished doctors, scientists, and medical research specialists and absorb their vast wealth of knowledge about the human body, diseases, afflictions, and our infinite capacity to heal. Accumulate that knowledge—not just what’s in their journal articles, papers, essays, and other various publications but also their remarkable ability to analyze, diagnose, and prescribe the proper treatment for each affliction, their incredible talent for comprehending biological functions and reactions to various stimuli.

Now gather together all the greatest minds—and the apprentices and trainees too—in various conferences all over the world, and share with each of them, one by one, all that cumulative knowledge. The process would take months, even years, but imagine all the advances possible with such an undertaking. It’s not entirely implausible that many of these specialists, once confronted with such a vast wealth of aggregate knowledge, might have so-called “Eureka!” moments, and discover solutions that were once blocked simply by lacking the awareness of a colleague’s previously unshared expertise.

With a power of this magnitude, working together as a species, who’s to say we wouldn’t eventually cure cancer? Or even better, diminish or even eliminate the effects of aging?

 4: Be the Human Truth Machine

Why not? In Marionettes, David’s partner Dana McGee, who has the same uncanny ability as David, points out how the power could be used this way. In criminal trials, jump into the minds of the accused and determine beyond the shadow of a doubt whether he or she is guilty or innocent. Acquire from their minds the elusive evidence that either incriminates or exonerates them. With the assistance of a Marionette Master, detectives could get inside the heads of their suspects. We could even eliminate once and for all the horrible tragedy of prosecuting and punishing innocent defendants!

Psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and psychologists could examine the minds of the mentally unstable and discover the primary reasons for their distress... and maybe even alleviate their symptoms.

Distrust your neighbors/ colleagues/ employees/ employer? Is your significant other cheating on you? Find out for certain with this amazing power. Just be prepared for the potential devastating truth, and deal with it in a mature and responsible way. We don’t want to start new wars, however limited or significant they may be, do we?

 Bottom line is, this incredible power could either be an emotionally crushing burden or an exhilaratingly liberating gift, a means for either salvation or damnation. The end results would all depend on how conscientiously the power is used.

 In SOULSNATCHER, children with extraordinary psychic powers are being used as pawns in a deadly supernatural war.

 5: Teach Anyone Anything

Yes, this amazing power could be a teaching tool, limited only by the extent of our imaginations. So you want to learn to play the piano? Anyone with this “human marionette” power could just jump into the mind of a piano virtuoso and absorb all their musical knowledge, technical expertise, and cumulative experience and training. Then, armed with all that information, jump into the mind of the eager beginner student and transfer that knowledge to her/ him. Our minds think beyond the speed of light... in fact, our synapses fire at the speed of thought. The brain processes billions of bits of data every moment of every day in nanoseconds, well beyond the capabilities of the most advanced computer humankind has yet created. To be precise, the human mind is the ultimate computer.

Of course, technique, skill, dexterity, and the deft physical application of the acquired knowledge would take time, practice, and self-discipline to learn and perfect. But the basics would all be there for immediate mental retrieval: how to read music, understand music theory, play scales, transpose the written note to the instrument itself, even how to hear a musical composition and determine key, pitch, tempo, and a multitude of other intricate details absorbed from the original virtuoso’s mind.

Want to know everything there is to know about history? Geology? Science? Medicine? How about understand quantum physics? Simple: have the Marionette Master enter the minds of all the experts in each particular field, absorb and accumulate the knowledge from them, and then transfer it to the enthusiastic student.

The potential possibilities are mind-boggling. How many Einsteins-in-the-wing would this astounding ability awaken, how many potential Chopins and Mozarts and Bachs and Teslas and Galileos would discover a propensity for unparalleled excellence? People who might not otherwise ever have the opportunity to learn that all their lives they’ve had an aptitude to excel in a certain discipline, but for whatever reason never got exposed to it, would suddenly arise in an unprecedented worldwide renaissance that could ultimately change our very nature and way of thinking.

You could even jump into a pregnant woman, discover the unique joy and wonder of carrying a developing life inside you, and share it with human males. Who knows? The heretofore unknowable experience could possibly give us all a greater appreciation and love of life, which we (males) couldn’t otherwise fully comprehend.

The sky wouldn’t be the limit; even the stars couldn’t contain the infinite possibilities. A concerted effort of this nature might propel humanity into an evolutionary sea-change that could eventually send us out to galaxies that even the Hubble Telescope hasn’t seen yet, as well as shrink us down to the atomic structure that reveals the nature of existence itself. Time and space would no longer be barriers in our ultimate collective pursuit of knowledge. We could possibly even pierce the veil that separates life and death.

Of course, we all know that knowledge without the application of wisdom can be dangerous, even disastrous. History—as brief as our moments here on this spinning rock hurtling through space have been so far in an astronomical sense—has proven that. As a species, we would either be forced to mature, or devolve into the savage, mindless protoplasmic soup from which we originally emerged. But if we excelled in our efforts, as humans so often do, we could potentially propel ourselves into the next step in our evolution as a species.

I know I’ve always been a Big Dreamer. But in order to make the Big Dreams come true, as I’ve stated before, we must dream big. I for one intend on never stopping, until I gasp out my last breath... and transcend the portal that lies beyond the realm of death. And if I’m able, I plan on dreaming big there, too.

 

Kerry Alan Denney aka The Reality Bender

photo copyright © 2013 by Reggie Barton

What astounding uses of this outrageous power occur to you? We heartily welcome all your ideas! Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below. If anyone comes up with an irresistible idea that I end up using in the sequel to Marionettes (yes, I do plan on writing a sequel), I will list your name in the Acknowledgments page with my thanks for sharing your ideas.

Special thanks to Jason White, Michael Schutz, and Darkness Dwells for allowing me to share my unique madness with the whole world on your blog. I hope to be a guest on your podcast show again soon!

 Cheers and happy reading to you all.

Flowers (2015) by Michael Schutz

Please do not confuse this Phil Stevens-directed horror film with Flowers (Loreak), the award-winning Spanish film. Terrible consequences would follow—though I imagine those intending to see Loreak would fare much worse for the mistake. This Flowers is a new entry into the canon of extreme horror films, mentioned in the same breath as the new American Guinea Pig series and other ghastly treasures found at Unearthed Films.

The synopsis that you’re likely to find simply states that Flowers is the story of six women who wake up in the crawlspace underneath their killer’s house. That’s a pretty disinterested summary of a fascinating film. Unlike so many of its fellow extreme movies, Flowers presents an engrossing balance of delicate story with its vile images. Stevens find the poignancy in the narrative while never shying away from gruesome visuals. The result is an artistic, compelling, gore-filled film.

We begin with a birth, of sorts, our first victim tearing herself free of the bag in which she was dumped like so much garbage. Our next fractured heroine crawls her way through a birth canal of sewage and viscera. And we really start to get the vibe of the film. These women are no longer victims but rather witnesses. The atrocities are filtered through their eyes, their experience, proving that a point-of-view movie can be made beyond the tired tropes of found footage cinema.

The carnage through which our witnesses slog is enriched by flashbacks of their deaths. Ah, yes, they are already dead and have woken to a purgatory of despair and enduring torture. When we meet the killer, we see that he is also a victim—of his insanity and depraved urges. He is just a man: bespectacled, fat, and under-endowed. Because real villains don’t wear masks and caper madly about. We are not privy to the voices in his head. Instead, Stevens employs a clever device by showing us the killer’s lunacy in the form of video screens through which somber, suited men watch impassively.

And no one speaks in this film. Instead, a dread-inducing score plays throughout, changing in tone from foreboding to romantic to despairing, to fit each witness’s epiphany. The sound, in general, is exceptionally thought-out and executed. All the action sounds hollow and subaqueous. This all matches the surreal nightmare images that assault our witnesses and through them, us.

There is a theme of voyeurism here. As our witnesses peek through chinks in the walls, gaze in mirrors, or flashback to their tortures, they are removed from the horror even as they can find no escape. We share the experiences with them, disgusted at what we see but unwilling to look away. And that’s what horror films are all about. Voyeurism. Watching our deepest fears—or darkest desires—played out with the comfortable filter of the screen.

Nods toward the deadly sins abound as well: Gluttony at the dinner table, Greed represented by the blood-spattered bills lying on the ground, Pride as one of our witnesses watches herself in the mirror, Lust abounds in the necrophilia and depraved sex of the killer, who also is Wrath incarnate. Sloth perhaps hides behind the addictions and rampant drug use. I didn’t find Envy, but I’m sure it was there. So is this a morality play? A demented Canterbury Tales in which each woman both watches and tells her story? Perhaps. They are not all innocents, to be sure, but who among us is?

Our six witnesses are, of course, the eponymous flowers. Beautiful and full of life but plucked too soon. Arranged and displayed by this madman. People are obviously burdened with complexities unknown to insensate nature, but just like the concept of wabi-sabi, it is humankind’s frailties and fault lines that make us the miracle of life that we are.

Flowers is a brutal film, proudly displaying graphic images meant to disgust and disturb. But it is far more. Through truly artistic turns, we see the juxtaposition of life and death, beauty and horror. This film reminds us of what A.S. Byatt once said, that there is no such thing as a still life, because even at the very moment we capture a beautiful thing in paint, in film, by any medium, it is already decaying, headed toward its inevitable death.

 

Where Has the Fantastic Gone in Horror? by Rob Shepherd

Tradition dictates that horror reflects a society’s current views, how the people of the time navigate their lives through their collective fears. Hence, right now we have a boom in zombie horror and space films. We fear the death and destruction right around the corner and yearn to keep moving, to know more, to find what lies in wait for us out there in the universe.

The dawn of horror reflected ancient man’s outside influences and fears of an unknowable world. Folklore and religion both originated to give even a limited understanding of the world and nature around humankind. So, what we get are the first dark fables and fairy tales—warnings of monsters, evil witches and specters waiting to whisk people away to their dooms. Collective fears evolved and centered on people being persecuted. Peasants being mistreated and enslaved, the hardship created by the division between the wealthy and the poor. Then the true horrors of religious persecution and people being hunted and sacrificed. From there we see actual people, creatures and animals represented as demons and monsters, in the dark tales of gothic horror: vampires, werewolves, banshees, succubi and so on during the pre- and post-Victorian eras.

In nuclear times we saw a surge of zombie stories, horror representing the threat of nuclear war and nuclear disaster of the times. Christian Europe may have given us vampires, black witches, werewolves, and all the sexualised gothic horror, but the largely secular and nuclear America gave us zombies as fear of nuclear threat and disaster. 

So it is well recognised that society self-directs itself toward the shifts in horror subjects. Today we lap up zombies in all their guises, from stumbling corpse to determined, creeping death to a fleet-footed undead hunter. We are soaking them all up once more. The reason? Largely the same as stated above, but with a new source-fear that cripples our society. Fantasy has become a seated part of our lives and our consciousness. It has, in mainstream culture, become entrenched in our everyday conflict. Think Game Of Thrones. Conflict all the time, running through all variations of theme. In popular culture both zombies and the fantasy genre reflect our current chaos and constant conflicts and how  there is often more disagreement than agreement between countries, religions, and any number of divided factions. Think of how many wars we are waging right now. Virtually every country is in some sort of conflict with another country/nation, be they neighbours or not. Just look at the Middle East; every one of the countries in that region is currently either in war with its neighbour or in conflict with ISIS. Or currently doing its best to destroy its own peoples by civil wars, repression, or genocide. 

As the Middle East  tears itself apart from every direction, Europe has plunged into a chaos of not knowing what to do, for whom, when, where or how. It has no money or solution to fix anything without either breaking something else or making elsewhere worse in their attempts to fix themselves. While terrorist groups target Europe with apparent ease, an entire subset of Americans follow Donald Trump’s tribble hair into racism, homophobia, paranoia, chauvinism and pure hatred as he stumbles toward the highest office in the world—which would then place his fingers on the biggest red self-destruct button on the planet. So, is it surprising that zombies have taken over horror films, TV shows, musical artists, comics, books and events such as comic con and a host of other horror events? Of course it isn't a surprise! We are in the mood for it. We are in the prime influential state of mind to soak up anything that takes us away from the real terrors in the world today. And with the extreme nature of our world problems, horror films, books, comics and TV shows are obviously getting more extreme and more powerful, more guttural and more visceral. 

Don't get me wrong. In a way, this is terrific for the horror business, keeping filmmakers, directors, writers, and artists all in work, selling their products and filling a need. Why? Because the more horror in the world equals the more source material we have to draw upon for inspiration. And also the more wild we can  be in our films, TV, stories and novels. There really is no limit to it right now. But it will change. Eventually conflicts slow, people become numb and disinterested in what they see and feel every day. You don't see millions of people queuing to see a Bela Lugosi film anymore, but you do see Daniel Craig pulling in millions as James Bond, and our superheroes Batman, Superman et al. making billions. And still you see a few making millions on more traditional horror and sci-fi subjects. The world and its paying audience move on eventually; you can't keep serving up Christopher Lee no matter how much of a horror GOD he was. Thus zombies and apocalyptic films, books, etc will soon find their popularity wane as the majority audience moves to something else. Ghosts are having a little drink up at the horror saloon, but they’re also on the decline after the glut of paranormal activity movies and copycat found footage films. Just as their limelight has dimmed, so it will for zombies. As a genre horror needs to understand  that all these sources of inspiration will only lead to ever crazier and wilder redundant visions. This influx should be tempered. Some horror needs reigning in or even to be left to fail if the idea isn't good. 

Why? Because with too much of anything, laziness quickly sets in. Why hunt and create your own dinner, when a pack of supernoodles is in front of the microwave? This is always the risk in horror. We get lazy and churn out the same things rather than create our own horrific dinners to feast upon. Rather than go to the cupboard and pull out a load of ingredients that society tells us can't be used together—that should NEVER be used together, that in fact is said to be strictly taboo—like Clive Barker, George Romero, John Carpenter, and The Soska Sisters have done, we need to take our own unique ingredients and create something completely different and  create new legends in the process. 

Without adapting and creating new visions of the fantastical, our laziness will turn into the inability to conjure up the horror, the madness, the victims, the essence of life itself. We will lose our talent to invent whole dimensions, universes to play out scenarios in which these horrors and fantasies live and breathe. 

So with our world in utter chaos, with every country in some state of conflict with another or with itself, with gun crime stubbornly high across the globe, and with religious, sacrificial, racial, sexual, hate and gender crimes all tearing away at our everyday lives, never have we been more in need of the fantastical in our stories, in our books, in our TV and films. We need horror in general more than ever right now. And never will we (and I include myself here, often a culprit of maintaining the horror status quo), will we have a better chance to move beyond stories of zombies, living dead and the race to find alien worlds. Because we are killing our own, wanting another go at it, whilst fearing what will come from other planets, other worlds. More destruction? More horror?

On the last point, we can only hope so, in literary perspective any way. Because it is precisely from strange, fantastical worlds that the greatest fiction pushes onwards and propels our literary and celluloid lives to even better, greater things. 

My own visions of fiction—of horror, whether it be domestic, domesticated, apocalyptic, sci-fi-infused, or straight visceral, guttural, graphic body horror—has a root in the fantastical. That's why I rarely if ever give a place, a true country of origin, as the setting. It's why I haven’t given an explicit description of a character’s race or religion. That is never down to me, nor will it be, that is down to the reader to decide. When the reader experiences my stories, they decide whether a character is white, black, Asian or whatever the case may be; it also may be dependent upon their own identity, and it is not my job to force my readers to accept what a person is. You as the reader can infer what you see as characters’ identities, their attitudes and their ways of being. That way, any given story can take place in any country, on any planet, in any dimension. There is no limit to where someone can come from, nor why and how. No limit to what horrors can be contained and released upon that world, that dimension, those people can be born to house to contain and release these horrors upon. 

So, I guess, in short (ha short, you should be lucky), my point in this ramble is this: how about we start to write and create more of the amazingly fantastical, the weird and the incredible sick stories of terror and thus frightening, amusing, exciting and titillating each other and the world. Let's demand it, promote it, share it, encourage it and love it. Let us love our own creations and our own fantasies a little bit more and worry a lot less about someone else sexual orientation, religion, race, gender, lifestyle or personal background. They never mattered. They don't matter, and they never will. So let's truly love horror a bit more by adding more fantasy and more creativity to our lives. 

Horror is in a great place right now. It has a lot of strength and so many directions to go in, as long as we love it and let it go in all directions and not close off all but one of its paths.

About the Author:

Rob Shepherd  was born in Essex in 1978 and still lives there with his wife, son, daft dog and grumpy old cat. 

Books to date include, Life With Boris Karloff!, Sofiah, Stripped Unconsciousness and The Grays Anatomy. Rob has featured in many anthologies including Dark Light 2 (by S.J. Davis), Liphar - Short Stories Vol.1 and Unleash The Undead (Collated & Edited by Samie Sands) and Thirteen 2: The Horror Continues (collated and edited by Kevin Hall)

Rob has also written scripts for several short films, such as Silentwood Films' "Sofiah" & other forthcoming short films, as well as feature length films due for completion soon. 

Rob is working on many more new books and projects. He is scheduled to appear in several new horror anthologies due for release soon as well as appearing at author and book signing events across the UK during 2016 and 2017 and is scheduled to release further books of various genres over the next 12-18 months.

How I Was Wrong about Bone Tomahawk

Written by Michael Schutz

Over the last couple of weeks, I told anyone who would listen that I didn’t like S. Craig Zahler’s new Western/Thriller Bone Tomahawk. “Too slow!” I said. “The characters are too stoic; I didn’t feel a sense of urgency!” I cried. Well, as positive reviews and comments for the film continued to pour in, I decided to give this one another try. I’m glad I did. I was wrong about Bone Tomahawk.

I should begin with compliments to the casting director. My first viewing, I dismissed the ensemble as a simple gathering of relatively big names to help drive ticket sales. That was my first mistake. This is actually a perfect cast. Not every actor can believably pull off the formal, stilted dialog that screenwriters use for Westerns. Everyone in Bone Tomahawk is quite convincing in this regard.

Beyond that, each of our key players is fleshed out with subtleties, quirks, and backstories. And each actor seems tailor-made for their roles.

Kurt Russell, who is no stranger to Westerns (Tombstone, The Hateful Eight), embodies the humorless, no-nonsense sheriff, who is painfully unaware of the ironies and dangers around him.

Patrick Wilson captures the frustrations of a simple man who suddenly finds his machismo ripped away—first with an injury that renders him useless, then as a husband who cannot protect his wife, and then a masterful combination of the two during his journey to reclaim his masculinity and his bride.

Matthew Fox nails the character of Brooder, whose self-assured self-absorption never crosses over into caricature or villainy. Clearly the wealthiest man in the town of Bright Hope, he is also the most competent and an accomplished Indian killer. Which is not a boast, just a fact. It is his summation of his own character that best describes him, “I am far too vain to live as a cripple.” The line is not only true, but illustrates an understanding of his own flaws.

And the terrific character actor Richard Jenkins channels Chicory, the doddering old backup deputy. In lesser hands (both in writing and performance) this character would be the dishonored drunk or the dangerously incompetent bumbler. But Chicory is often the first to notice when things are amiss. His country witticisms (“It’s nine, but it feels like next week.”) and small-town naiveté (the charming story about the flea circus) never get on Sheriff Hunt’s nerves—or the audiences, in my newfound opinion. And Jenkins’ performance is stellar, at one point absent-mindedly working his mouth but finding no words as he stands apart from the action.

In all, what I at first took to be dull stoicism is in fact hefty doses of determination, humor, and hubris in perfect measures. Early scenes with Mr. and Mrs. O’Dwyer and a quiet conversation between Sheriff Hunt and his wife set up the individual stakes of these men. And O’Dwyer’s leg injury is the physical representation of a fatal flaw for an otherwise strong man. It puts our heroes at a disadvantage from the start and substitutes as suspense while the film builds.

Yes, we wait until an hour and nineteen minutes to hear again the cave dwellers chilling “music,” but the hour of character development pays off in the long run. The balance of camaraderie and tension among them plays as genuine and sets the tone for the first half of the movie. I simply must not have paid attention the first time I watched, because a sense of urgency and kinship most definitely forms between the audience and the men on their quest.

And about that quest… The “troglodytes” who kill and kidnap indiscriminately present a threat utterly unlike most foes in either Westerns or thrillers. Their silent, precise attacks are both more real and more terrifying than most foils. The prime example of their cold efficiently comes at an hour and thirty-six minutes, and shook me to the core. And the image of the blind, pregnant troglodyte women will haunt my dreams for a while.

So yes, my friends, I was wrong about Bone Tomahawk. I’m happy I gave it another viewing. Yes, these characters were stoic in their grim determination. But they were so much more. This movie is a thrilling example of character development in film. With only a couple key scenes of brutality, it cements itself into the mind. It’s a movie about honor and horror. It presents us with a unique take on the dichotomy of morality versus survival. Grim, clever, and relentless, this is definitely one to watch.

As always, stay dark, my friends…and shoot first; ask questions later. But make sure you ask those questions.

Crystal Lake Publishing by Joe Mynhardt

The Journey so Far:

Every now and then life forces us to stand still… and reflect. For most of us that time is when a new year stares you in the face.

So thanks to Erik Hoffstatter and Darkness Dwells for asking me to do this, since it’s high time I take a step back and look at the bigger picture. 

2015 was one of those years where it felt like I was watching a train speed by inches from my face, while I’m on another train traveling in the opposite direction. 

Destination? 

Not quite so unknown as you’d think.

I’m one of those extremely goal-orientated people who always have a plan, and my train is a small press dubbed Crystal Lake Publishing. 

I should actually be taking stock a lot more, now that I think about it, just to make sure my goals are still where they need to be. 

I started writing in 2008, and quickly realized my passion was not just for creating my own work, but the actual process of creating books. Working collaboratively with authors and artists, meeting new authors and promoting their careers were the best parts of my new ‘hobby.’ In 2012 I realized I knew enough (or so I thought) to start my own small press. I knew enough folks to get it off the ground, but… I had no idea how much work lay ahead. I wanted to help bring great fiction to the world, and I finally found a group of people who understood me. A place where I fit in.

Now when you talk about humble beginnings, picture a slightly off-center primary school teacher from South Africa, living in a small flat on the school premises. Just me, my wife, and our two dogs. I was 32 years old when I started Crystal Lake Publishing. Until recently, my day job funded everything the company put out. 

I had dreams, plans, and most importantly, I knew what authors and readers were looking for. Being an author first gave me a great advantage as an editor, publisher, marketer, and a good old friend who understood the mind of an author – their angst, insecurities, worries etc. 
Crystal Lake started out pretty small with an anthology name For the Night is Dark, edited by Ross Warren (not too small, since it had Gary McMahon, William Meikle, Jasper Bark, and Robert W. Walker in it), until a book called Horror 101: The Way Forward came along. The process of putting it together introduced me to a lot of big names in the industry, and most folks realized I was truly a fan of the genre, and that Crystal Lake wasn’t just another fly-by-night small press. The goal of the book was to help authors along their career paths. It ended up being nominated for a Bram Stoker award, and put Crystal Lake right on track.

Since that day I’ve worked with a lot of authors I read growing up, as well as film producers that had me hiding behind a pillow as a kid (for Horror 201 especially). All ‘inventors’ I grew up studying, whether I realized it or not. Such great memories. The highs I got from chatting with folks like Wes Craven (just before he passed away), Graham Masterton, Jack Ketchum, Ramsey Campbell, and Mick Garris had its low points, though: everything else felt mundane. But I worked through those issues by keeping the final goal in mind. To publish great books people will love and remember.

It wasn’t long before I had to get more folks on board, since I just couldn’t do it all anymore. Not with another full time job as a primary school teacher in the mix. And you can only go along for so long. Eventually you’ll have to expand, or crack. Trust me, I came close in 2015. There’s just too much work involved, if you’re doing it right.  

Now, one thing I’m very weary of is failed publishers, and the biggest thing that can sink a company is going too big too fast. Spending money they don’t have, believing the money will come flooding in with the next book. That is not the way this business works. My two bestsellers were slow-cookers at first, anyway. You have to set a very strong foundation (just like an author has to build a career through many books). So when I started hiring folks, I really did my homework, looking for the best quality at affordable fees. Some things I could outsource, the rest I just had to continue doing on my own. Sink or swim.

I decided to build Crystal Lake slowly, but strong. I wanted to treat it like an actual being – a life force. It had to grow up, face obstacles, evolve, and go through those tough teenage years (still there some days). 

In an effort to make Crystal Lake unique, it needs to be an extension of me. Unique to me so that it can’t be like any other small press; in the same way that a story can be unique when written by different authors with strong individual voices. That’s exactly why I tend to work with folks I get along with really well. I want them to be a part of the foundation.

So I’m doing the footwork. Meeting the people. Being honest and sincere. Building lifelong relationships with folks I’ll probably never meet in person, but would love to hang out with at a horror convention someday. 

It wasn’t easy at the beginning, but luckily I’m a lot easier to get along with online than in person. I’m a bit…shy. Yeah, let’s call it that. Thank goodness for emails and Facebook. I am not great with first impressions.

At times it felt like the company was growing too fast, and I just hung on for the ride, but in the end, I need to keep my finger on everything that happens. No matter how many people will end up working for Crystal Lake, or how many authors we sign, I need to know everything that happens, and when. 

Another big step forward was when Crystal Lake opened for book submissions in 2014, paying authors advances. I believe it showed folks we’re here to stay, and drew the attention of authors and not just readers. 

I’m a big believer of paying authors what they deserve, and every year I strive to pay them more. As a publisher, you need to make your authors feel like they’re more important than a book, because they are. My job isn’t to just sell books; it’s to help readers find their next favorite author. I strive to introduce these two groups to each other, so I spend a lot of time meeting folks on both sides, studying their styles and preferences.

In another effort to make Crystal Lake stand out (not just in quality, since most small presses I know have that), I needed to approach my authors’ existing readers in a unique way. I had to make them fans of Crystal Lake, while making existing Crystal Lake fans check out their work. Most readers don’t even know the publisher of their favorite authors, but I want to change that. I want to make Crystal Lake one of their favorite small presses. That way they’ll feel like part of the team, share our launches, and take a chance on a new author. Eventually I want them to trust my judgment and read what I publish. That’s why I’ll always have the first and final say in Crystal Lake’s books, until the day I die.

Once I’ve promoted the heck out of a book, and reached out to readers in every way I know how, I turn my attention to supporting my authors, guiding them to newer heights. I take their careers very seriously, not just the books I’m handling. I guide them where I can, or get someone with more experience to jump in. I give them every possible chance, because they deserve it. Motivate them. Keep them going. Whatever it takes. Ask any of my authors, I make them feel like they’re my bestselling author – at least I hope so. 

During this process I’m also learning: constantly researching launch tactics, other companies, authors, books, How-To manuals, management and small-business guides, careers, and a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. Oh, and lots of reading. As much as I have time for, which of course is never enough. I really put in the time to study today’s authors. Looking for that undiscovered talent. There’s no bigger rush than finding new talent.

That’s pretty much how things started out, and my day-to-day thought process. In the end I’d love to leave something behind. Be remembered for my influence. Make a difference in the lives of every person I work with. Have them be better off for knowing me. 

It’s not always easy, but that’s my goal. It keeps me on the right path. Helps me make the hard choices. 

I tend to neglect myself at times, so I need to find the right balance. Life is all about finding the right balance in everything you do, even the things you don’t do.

What Lies Ahead:

I have lots of goals. Big plans. Short, medium, and of course long term goals. Be sure to always have all three types of goals, otherwise it’s easy to lose momentum.

I even have a couple of wishes. One thing to remember is you shouldn’t make goals that are out of your control. It’ll make you feel like a failure when you’re actually quite successful. That’s why I call them wishes. 

For instance, I’d love to make a huge impact on the Horror genre over the course of my career. When I was a kid (and even now), I loved watching folks receive a lifetime achievement award. Now that’s an honor. Forget the Best Picture Oscar. I want the lifetime achievement award. I’ll continue to give this industry my all, contributing to careers and the written word as much as I can, achieving my goals by breaking them into steps, but those wishes will always be out of my control.

A goal for 2016 is to hit the bookstores hard. Our books are already available in bookstores, but the bookstores need to be more aware of them.

Another goal for 2016 was to finally make a couple of Best Books of the Year lists, but in the last few days I found out Crystal Lake titles made at least six lists that I know of, so hopefully we can build that. 

Another wish is eventually work with Stephen King, Joe Hill, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, and other big names. I’ve already got Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker lined up for an anthology. What a treat it was to see my signature next to theirs on the contracts. A dream come true.
I’d also love to open for novel submissions again in 2016, perhaps novellas, as well. Perhaps even some Fantasy books. More Dark Poetry collections, as well. My mind is always racing, always working. Too bad there’s only so much time in a year. But, quality has to come first.

What We Look for in a Story/Author:

I’m a big fan of stories. I don’t care if it’s a novel, novella, short story, poem, song, movie, or comic book. If a story bores me, I’m gone! As a reader, if you have a great story, I’ll help you shape the characters and fix everything else. 

I love unique and original stories that still have a touch of old-school horror. Who doesn’t?
But as a publisher, I need to look at the full package, since that’s what we need to sell in the end. I’m looking for talent, a submission that needs as little editing as possible, and a dedicated author whose image closely reflects ours. 

I want to be sure that you’ll put your weight behind the book, and that you’re in it for the right reasons. That you’ll keep writing no matter how your next book fares, and that you won’t bite a reviewer’s head off on social media, or for real. 

Careers are not built on one book. And successful careers are scarcely achieved on overnight success. 

I want to leave you with this nugget: Always know where you are in your career, and where you’re headed. Figure out how you’ll get there and who you’ll meet on the way there. Reach out to them. Help them along the road and they’ll help you. It’s a lot like running a marathon where hundreds of gold medals are handed out at the end. The only time that it’s lonely at the top is when you didn’t bring anyone with you. 

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go find the next big writer. Plus we’ve got about twenty top notch books to prepare for 2016.

Joe Mynhardt
Crystal Lake Publishing
www.crystallakepub.com
https://twitter.com/crystallakepub
https://www.facebook.com/Crystallakepublishing/

This blog post originally appeared on The Cimmerian Writings of Erik Hofstatter: http://erikhofstatter.net/news/

Cropsey (2009)

Written by Michael Schutz

If you don’t make your bed, Cropsey’s going to get you.

You’d better behave, or Cropsey’s going to get you.

That was the general idea behind the Staten Island urban legend of Cropsey, originally a colloquial slang word for “maniac.” And Staten Islanders knew about maniacs. Sort of. This was the home of Willowbrook State School, the detestable facility made infamous by Geraldo Rivera’s landmark exposé. Willowbrook was supposed to take care of up to 4,000 children with “intellectual disabilities.” But from 1947 to 1987, upwards of 6,000 men, women, and children with varying mental challenges (and overlooked or misunderstood conditions such as cerebral palsy) overfilled the facility. Conditions were ungodly. Robert Kennedy visited and declared that the people in Willowbrook were “living in filth and dirt, their clothing in rags, in rooms less comfortable and cheerful than the cages in which we put animals in a zoo.”

Willowbrook closed in 1987.

So where did all those poor people go? Most were relocated to various facilities in and around New York City, but it has long been speculated that some—those not as cognitively disabled as once thought—were simply released. True or not, that was a story believed by many on Staten Island. And what better place for these “maniacs” to wander than the island’s 2,800-acre parkland known as the Greenbelt?

All of this begins the 2009 documentary, Cropsey. We learn that through the years Staten Island became a sort of dumping ground: not just for the mentally challenged and mis-labeled, misunderstood people housed at Willowbrook, but for the bodies from mob hits, for sufferers of tuberculosis, and also for literal garbage dumps. History, legends, fact, and fiction created a perfect storm for the real Cropsey to emerge.

In 1987, twelve-year-old Jennifer Schweiger disappeared, her body discovered thirty-five days later. She wasn’t the first. Abductions and murders of children with developmental disabilities had begun in 1972. But it was after the Schweiger case that the police finally nailed their long-time suspect. Their Cropsey.

A former Willowbrook orderly, Andre Rand, had been living in the woods for years. He is presented as not quite sane himself. And a sort of cult leader for a clan of homeless men and women living in the tunnel system underneath Willowbrook. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced for the kidnapping of Jennifer Schweiger; the jury could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charge. Sixteen years later, he was brought back to court and convicted of kidnapping the first girl, Holly Ann Hughes.

                                                                     Andre Rand

                                                                     Andre Rand

The question is, Did he really do it? An even better question, Did he do all of it? Because Rand was tried and convicted of every case in the lens of the media and the minds of the locals, who had conditioned themselves to believe in Cropsey. Guilty or not, Rand was an easy target: homeless, uncommunicative, bizarre and bizarre-looking. Just as the idea of Cropsey had long been the symbol of everything bad that could happen, Rand became the face of that very same evil. Rand and Cropsey, one and the same—a living, breathing villain to blame for all the missing and murdered children.

This documentary doesn’t have the answers. Therein lies its hook. It poses questions that are largely unanswerable, but it presents riveting discussion points. This film casts a spell, in turns creepy, sad, and thought-provoking. David Kwok of the Tribeca Film Festival said, “The eeriness of the mystery pulsates through the film as they journey into the underbelly… As more information and clues unravel, filmmakers Zeman and Brancaccio become more immersed in shocking surprises and revelations. The reality they uncover in this uniquely hair-raising documentary is more terrifying than any urban legend.” I cannot say it any better. 

Once again, reality proves more brutal, more strange, than any fiction. So stay dark, my friends, but stay safe. The monsters are real. They live next door. 

John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns (2005)

 

Written by Michael Schutz

So-called “cigarette burns” are small, circular marks in the upper right-hand corner of a film. They look just like burns caused by actual cancer sticks, thus their name. They indicate that a change of reels is coming. In these days of digital film and projection, you don’t see them anymore. But back in the good old days, you could tell that an awkward jump of film was about to come—eight seconds after the cigarette burn. John Carpenter’s entry in the Masters of Horror series is titled Cigarette Burns, and his movie is an homage to film. Specifically horror films.

Norman Reedus stars as Kirby Sweetman, a mercenary of sorts, with a particular knack at tracking down vintage films. Enter Udo Kier as Bellinger, a wealthy connoisseur obsessed with a thirty-year-old film, La Fin Absolue du Monde (The Absolute End of the World). In a turn nearly identical to Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, Bellinger hires Sweetman to track down this rare film. A film only shown once, and which resulted in a homicidal riot. Bellinger knows the film still exists because he’s captured one of the extras—an actual angel whose wings were cut off during filming.

“In order to fully appreciate La Fin Absolue du Monde, one must understand the context in which it premiered… [it] is not a movie but more like a bullet fired directly into the collective brainpan of all those assembled, and the only rational response is violence.” So says the lone critic still alive who has seen the film. Brutality does surround this lost movie; everyone who has seen it either dies or goes mad. Sweetman himself begins to lose his mind in the mere pursuit, cigarette burns appearing before our eyes, cuing Sweetman’s visions of his beloved dead wife.

Taken as a straight-forward movie, Cigarette Burns is fairly interesting. The egregious similarities between Carpenter’s film and Polanski’s can be forgiven because this film references a host of movies including The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again, both of which Bellinger mentions, as well as the movie posters for Nosferatu, Saw, and The Devil’s Rejects popping up. But much more is at play here than the obvious plot.

Cigarette Burns is a metaphor. A film by a film lover (Carpenter) about the very process of movie making and the relationship between a director and his audience. “We trust filmmakers. We sit in the dark, daring them to affect us, secure in the knowledge that they won’t go too far…” What we see during this short film is the power of this medium. We really do trust filmmakers as we sit together in a dark room, giving our undivided attention to the images flickering before us. We are ready, willing, demanding to be emotionally changed.

To digress for a moment, when I saw The Lords of Salem at the cinema, I sat riveted as the story unfurled before me. At the end, when the movie’s action moves to a theatre, Rob Zombie mesmerized me with the construction of the scene—as the physical seats before me continued unbroken into the rows of seats in that film, like a Charles Adams drawing. A montage followed, a series of nightmare visions straight out of a demon’s fantasies. This swallowed me whole. I clearly remember wondering if perhaps this film had been made to capture my soul and drag me to hell. It sounds like a bunch of hyperbole, but I truly sensed my grip on reality slipping. This is certainly what the audience to La Fin Absolue du Monde felt. And it is only a matter of degrees more than what films do to us every day.

Or should do.

Haven’t we all seen a movie so terrible—or so gruesome—that we’ve needed to hold off the Oedipal urge to gouge out our eyes as did Bellinger’s manservant? And Carpenter’s beautifully realized death scene for Bellinger is the perfect metaphor for filmmaking. For all creative endeavors. What does an artist do but put his very guts on screen—or paper, or canvas—for an audience to enjoy, mock, decry, or praise? And don’t we all wish that the angels would weep over our creations?

Cigarette Burns is a movie you can watch with a bucket of popcorn or argue its philosophical points well into the night. Either way, it’s worth a viewing. Whatever you queue up next, I hope it’s good. And as always, stay dark my friends.





Bitter Feast (2010)

You all know I love horror. What you may not know is that I’m obsessed with cooking shows. Especially cooking competition shows. I eat up (See what I did there?) MasterChef, Top Chef, even the overly acerbic Hell’s Kitchen. If only my two passions could unite! Wait, director Joe Maggio did just that in his 2010 film, Bitter Feast!

The premise is delectable (Okay, I’ll stop now.): a celebrity chef’s cooking show, The Feast, is cancelled after a particularly vicious review of his restaurant. His life is suddenly in shambles, and he knows who to blame: the reviewer, JT Franks. And we all know revenge is a dish best served (…sorry, I couldn't help myself.). Suffice it to say that Chef Peter Grey (pitch-perfectly played by James Gros) kidnaps said reviewer and tries to teach him a few things. 

Bitter Feast is clever in that our Chef Grey doesn’t just chain up Franks in the basement of his (Grey’s) country home to start hacking off pieces. No, Grey challenges Franks to try cooking dishes for which he wrote scathing reviews. Put up or shut up, Grey seems to say. Who is this guy who can ruin careers with his words when he can’t even cook a simple steak to medium rare? As a writer who’s received my own share of bad reviews and rejections, I took great pleasure in seeing Franks put through these tests.

But this movie takes the time to develop both characters. We see the wreckage of JT Franks’ life. His nasty reviews are a by-product of a failed relationship and an unfinished (actually, not even begun) novel. And as his captor has a hell of time breaking him, we can start to wonder who’s the real hero here. Franks remains his bitter, sarcastic self through the torments, refusing even our own expectations that he’ll quiver and grovel for it all to stop. In a way, Bitter Feast is a pre-cursor to You’re Next, in that it offers the audience a chance to see a victim refusing to be treated as such.

The film is a perfect storm of levity and suspense, with just a pinch of gore. And more than a measure of poetic justice. And it includes a terrific supporting cast of Mario Batali, Megan Hilty, Amy Seimetz, and Larry Fessenden. Bitter Feast satisfies on many levels, giving just enough points of view to keep from telling just one side of events. I recommend this movie as the opening act to your next movie night. I hope you enjoy it. And as always, stay dark, my friends.

Halloween: Carpenter & Zombie

Written by Michael Schutz

What better movie to watch for Halloween than…Halloween.

John Carpenter’s original 1978 film has been discussed at length over the years. Suffice it to say that with $300,000 and 20 days, he created one of the most iconic horror films, and villains, of all time. A spray-painted Captain Kirk mask became the blank slate on which audiences and characters projected their worst fears. Michael Myers’ expressionless face along with his stiff, measured walk is as terrifying—or more—than axe-wielding maniacs running around a corn field. He embodies the boogeyman. Let us not forget that the character’s name in the credits is simply “The Shape.”

What has always fascinated me about Michael Myers is that so much more must exist in him than we see on screen. Yes, his mask erases all emotion, but what mad contortions wrack his features underneath? Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask reveals the crazed intensity of his eyes, but Michael Myers’ mask creates deep-set hollows, hiding even brief flashes of either insanity or purposeful malice.

And what of his robotic movements? What we see of Myers in Halloween suggests his limbs are nearly frozen in rigor mortis-type stiffness. Yet to dig up and transport Judith’s gravestone would require efforts to which we are not privy. Covering himself with a sheet and putting on Bob’s glasses to scare Lynda suggests either a playfulness or deliberate sadism that we don’t otherwise see in his character—most of his stalking and kills seeming mindless, instinctual. I’m fascinated that “behind-the-scenes” he possesses the creativity and dexterity to create the tableau in the Wallace house and string up Bob’s body from the ceiling. All of this is, to me, more frightening than the fact that bullets cannot kill him, and that he ultimately disappears into the night.

In 2007, Halloween received the remake treatment. Jason and I love discussing remakes—their quality and value, their purpose, and their execution. I usually groan when reading that a classic horror film is being remade. And movie remake criticism seems even more subjective than standard film reviewing. Of course, I don’t consider any of my blogs to be actual “reviews.” Rather, I comment on what I love—and occasionally what I hate. That being said, I can’t think of a better writer/director to tackle Halloween than Rob Zombie.

First off, all of Zombie’s films have a distinct 70’s vibe: grainy film, pitch perfect affectations of that decade’s acting and writing, and his choice of music. Halloween 2007 is not the modern, slicked-up version, like the disappointing The Last House on the Left of 2009. Rob Zombie’s love of the original is evident. He uses Carpenter’s iconic score without changing a note. And he pays homage to such classic scenes as the aforementioned wearing-the-sheet trick.

What I love about Rob Zombie films is the character development. The gore and the violence garners the most attention, but just like Stephen King writes just as much about his characters’ lives as he does the horror, so Zombie takes care to turn the people populating his movies into living, breathing souls. Michael Myers’ early home life is rich with dialog and action and an overwhelming sense of everyday horror: verbal and sexual abuse, violence, and arguments—measured by wry humor. It’s in this first forty-five minutes of the film that Zombie truly makes this his own.

In the updated Halloween, we see so much more of young Michael Myers. It certainly could be argued that this detracts from that faceless, nameless (remember, he’s “The Shape” to Laurie and her friends) boogeyman of the original. But since we already have that version, why not revel in this new detail? Daeg Faerch as young, chubby, bullied, disturbed Michael Myers is an absolute revelation. I love that we see both young Michael and younger Dr. Loomis grow into to the archetypes they’d embodied over the last twenty-nine years. In 1978, we never hear a word from Michael, we know absolutely nothing, and see not a trace of how a little boy transformed into pure evil. Zombie gives us this transition, and it is a valid approach. Downright enjoyable for me.

As for the latter half of the film, Zombie’s clever use of violence lends itself perfectly to the Halloween mythos. Again, since we already have the equally clever non-violence (in the style of Hitchcock’s deceptively tame Psycho) of Carpenter original to watch at will, why not have this version to enjoy the utter brutality of Myers? I think it is safe to say that as horror fans, we are voyeurs of the perverse and bloody. And I just ate up the level of ferocity Michael displays in this movie. I’ve never found Rob Zombie films to be gratuitous, if only because he takes that time to make his characters live, so their deaths have meaning. And now with this Halloween, we have a more graphic, realistic truth to what would happen if the boogeymen returned to Haddonfield.

Whatever your tastes, I’m sure you like one or the other Halloween films. For my money, Michael Myers is the most interesting of the franchise villains, whether we see him in John Carpenter’s original, Rob Zombie’s remake, or any of the films in between. Have a happy Halloween, my friends. Lock your doors. Check your candy. And stay dark.

The Ennui of the Dead by Adrean Messmer

Adrean Messmer

Adrean Messmer

I like zombies. Like, a lot. My two favorite things in the world are zombies and unicorns. Only one of those things has had a show about them on TV for five, going on six, years. Oh, and a spin-off prequel. I should be elated, right? I mean, back before Netflix even did streaming, I spent a month or so renting every DVD they had starring zombies. Even the ones about Nazi zombies where they did the actors up with blue and green paint that rubbed off every time they touched another actor. So, I’m willing to put up with some pretty awful stuff. But, there are some pretty serious challenges when it comes to doing a horror series. Since The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on TV, it seems like a pretty easy target. I mean, uh, example.

So, here’s my dark secret. I don’t like The Walking Dead. I’m not even sure if I like Fear: TWD or if I just have a massive crush on Frank Dillane. And, I think, the reason is that I can deal with the sick-sad-world setting for so long without a break.

Granted, the humans of The Walking Dead have it particularly bad. I mean, part of the point of the comic book and, I assume, the show as well is that the zombies aren’t really the monsters. I do get it. But even the first season of True Detective had hope, and it was circling eldritch nihilism like a hungry crow. Without hope, there’s nothing on the line and nothing to lose.

Okay, wait. Maybe hope isn’t quite the right word. Hope is good, but not necessary. Levity, though, that’s important. I need a chance to process what I’m watching. Space to breathe is good. Laughter is better because it throws me off balance for the next bloody blow.

But you know, that isn’t the worst part. And it certainly isn’t a deal-breaker for most people. Hell, it’s not even a deal-breaker for me because here I am still watching that show.

See, familiarity breeds contempt. Contempt isn’t fear. It’s just, you know, contempt. Annoyance. Irritation. The inhuman monsters become a storm. Rats. Earthquakes. They’re a part of a hostile environment and dangerous, but they’re not really monsters anymore. And the human monsters, they’re all just bad people, walking around, kicking puppies, and playing king of the mountain. It gets so easy to predict. All the creator can do is keep upping the ante, making each successive bad guy more depraved than the last. And, eventually, even that isn’t shocking anymore.

When H.P. Lovecraft wanted to describe the most horrifying thing imaginable, he just didn’t. He wrote that it was indescribable. To see the creature was to be mad. Even their names are alien, with too many consonants next to each other and vowels stacked on top of the next, not really pronounceable. Lovecraft may have been an awful person, but he understood fear. He knew that the things we truly fear are the things we don’t understand. It’s so true that it’s an idiom you can barely make it through the day without hearing.

When was the last time vampires were scary? Even the teenage terrors in The Lost Boys were hotter than they were horrifying. It’s why Freddy Kruger became a joke, Michael and Jason turned into Lennie Smalls, and nearly no one likes the sequel as much as they think they will. You start to understand the monster. Maybe not on an emotional level, but on a logical one. There are rules to everything. And once you know those rules, the supernatural is natural, paranormal is just normal. 

About Adrean Messmer:

When Adrean Messmer was eight, she asked her mother to read Stephen King's "It" as a bedtime story. Her mother obliged and that probably explains a lot.

She is the editor in chief of A Murder of Storytellers, an affiliate member of the HWA, and a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. If you want to know more, you can find her over at www.splatterhouse5 where she writes mostly about other people's books.

 

The Green Disappointment

Written by Michael Schutz

I've been waiting for Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno for nearly two years--from the time I first heard rumors that the great Eli Roth was reinventing Cannibal Holocaust, through last year's cancellation of its September release, to yesterday, when I finally walked to the cinema to see this sure-to-be gore-drenched, gut-wrenching, disgusting, disturbing, absolutely terrific film!

But it was none of those things.

What I always forget about Eli Roth is that he takes half the movie to get going. I forgive him the tedious set-ups, because when the Hostels or Cabin Fever got going, they were great. Each one more over-the-top than the last. Images of Hostel II still haunt my waking dreams. But once again, fully half the movie is banal characters (lesser known actors are fine, I don't need star-studded movies to keep my interest, but this cast was terrible--except for Daryl Sabara, who managed terror, disgust, pathos, and humor in his small role.) Honestly, I would have loved Sarah Hyland (Haley from Modern Family) as Justine. Our preconceptions of her from that show would have established her character, and shattered our expectations later in the movie. But there wasn't much for anyone to work with, as they recited some of the worst dialog I've heard in years.

I have no problem with movies that take a while to develop. But make it count. These one-dimensional characters barely kept my interest. With two writers besides Roth working on the screenplay, someone should have been able to write a beginning filled with tension and a terrible sense of dread to propel us through the first half.

All of this would have been forgiven if the carnage at the cannibal village had blown my mind. But it didn't. I've watched interviews with Eli Roth. I know the sick shit that's in his head. He's a master level gore hound. He's warped to a degree that if he wasn't in the arts, he'd need hospitalization. I am his target audience. I want to be sickened. I needed to want to tear my eyes out so I can no longer see the sick, twisted shit inflicted on these poor student activists. I would love for Roth to say "fuck it" and go for an NC-17 rating on a movie full of so much filth and viscera that the movie is banned, not shelved because of a distribution problem.

The Green Inferno is a watered down, pallid, droll disappointment. I'd expect this kind of misfire from most anyone else, but when Eli Roth is so capable of producing jaw-dropping gore-horror, I am left shaking my head in lack of disgust.

Carnival of Souls (1962)

I have to thank Ted and Tony from Horror Etc for this one. You can listen to their thoughts on Carnival of Souls on their Terror in Monochrome 2, episode 339.  If you haven't been listening to the Horror Etc podcast, then I highly recommend that you rectify this.

Within episode 339 they talk about Carnival of Souls, a black and white classic from 1962 directed by Jacques Tourneur, staring Candace Hilligoss. It was listening to this podcast where I considered watching this movie and, recently, I did indeed watch it. I actually watched it a couple of times, as it's that freaking good!

It's that good for a few reasons. While watching, I kept wondering about the seemingly strange descent into madness of our hero, Mary Henry. Or is it a descent into madness? One impressive thing is Candace Hilligoss's performance. Through my first viewing, I thought that her performance was stilted and, well, just plain bad. The second time, though, I realized that it's possible that the actress was pulling off a good performance as she's portraying her character. It's Mary, her character that's flat and, to be honest, pretty cold. She's also confused, scared, and contradicts herself all the time. And when the movie ends, her journey complete, you can't help but to be on her side and feel bad for her.

We start the movie with Mary sitting in the passenger seat of her friend's car. They're at a stoplight when a group of guys pull up beside them. "Want to race?" the driver says. Mary's driving friend,   a young woman smoking a cigarette and looking fifties cool says that indeed, she does want to race.

And so they do.

The race ends badly when the women's car car accidentally goes over a bridge into a rivers. No one seems to merge from the accident for some time until, low and behold, Mary crawls from the mud and the clutches of death upon the river shore.

An organist, Mary soon after takes on a job in another town , in church, where she can be the sole organist. (On a side note, let me tell you about this organ she plays. it's huge, and I'm not sure how they fit inside the churches.) This is where the story begins to get strange.

From the beginning of this journey, we're introduced to "the man," a vision Mary keeps seeing in reflections of mirrors and windows. He is this creepy dude, apparently acted by Jacques--the director--himself, and represents not only the guilt of a sole survivor, but of something else so much deeper that this viewer was left, at the end, wondering what his role ever was in the first place if not the intoxicant to our journey's very end.

The plot moves fairly quickly, and we're introduced to Mary's sudden obsession with a dead carnival of the town. Whenever she illegally enters this "dead carnival," things get even weirder.

What we have, in the end, is a descent into madness, guilt, and/or something else entirely.  It's these qualities that makes this movie so enjoyable. It makes you think and guess and then second guess yourself. Along the way you find that you're having some fun, which is never wrong when watching a movie. Although the ending isn't completely unpredictable, you find yourself saying, "Huh," at its end. Or at least I did.