While the word “vampire” usually conjures images of foggy European forests and crumbling gothic castles, vampire legends don’t start and end with Dracula. Blood-sucking monsters exist in the shadows of cultures all over the world.
Today, I’ll introduce you to five vampires from black cultures.
From the Western Cape region of Africa, comes the impundulu. This creature takes the form of a beautiful woman and serves as the familiar of a witch, doing her bidding (and potentially becoming her lover). But the impundulu has a voracious appetite for blood and if the witch fails to keep her fed, she’s just as likely to turn on her mistress.
The sasabonsam lives in the forests of Togo and Ghana, waiting for unwary hunters or travelers to pass underneath. When they do, the sasabonsam scoops them up and takes them into the canopy to feast. The sasabonsam looks like a human with one distinct difference: it has short, stubby arms that turn into monstrous, batlike wings. With a wingspan of twenty feet, it’s truly a terrifying sight, even before it eats you.
From southern Togo comes the adze. The adze’s favorite food is children—specifically their hearts, livers, and blood. Normally, this creature takes the form of a firefly, sneaking into homes to suck blood, but when it’s captured, it transforms into a hunchbacked figure, black as ink, with sharp talons.
The Obayifo of West Africa is considered both a vampire and a type of witch. While traveling at night, it emits a bright green phosphorescent light. Like the adze, the Obayifo’s favorite food is the blood of children. Legend says that you can tell someone is an Obayifo by their shifty eyes and obsession with food.
The soucouyant hails from the Caribbean islands. She is a shape-shifting, blood-sucking hag. She looks like an old woman during the day, but at night transforms into a ball of fire to find her victims. Interestingly, the soucouyant shares some similarities with vampires from European folklore: 1) if her victims don’t die, they become a soucouyant themselves and 2) she can be trapped by scattering rice on the ground, forcing her to pick the grains up piece by piece.
Shakespeare is a pioneer of what we now consider horror fiction.
I said it.
Before you recline away from your laptop or iPad or whatever you are using to read this article, consider this… the realism that Shakespeare infused in his work – his use of ghosts, his regard for psychological torment, even his sporadic employ of physical pain – is indicative of the horror genre and its many sub-genres, tropes, and tenets.
Many think that Shakespeare’s alignment with the horror genre is coincidental, however, I posit that it is a natural kinship. Shakespeare does what all writers do, both in literary and genre fiction: Shakespeare reports the state of the world through his writing. This is the very definition of art imitating life.
Shakespeare was not the first to do it. Even before his most graphic depiction of what would be considered visceral horror by modern sub-genre definitions, Titus Andronicus, Sophocles had introduced audiences to psychological and physical torture in Oedipus the King (circa 430 BCE) and an unknown poet had dredged a mythical beast from a dark corner in the universe in Beowulf (circa 8th century). Indeed, some might suggest that the Christian Bible is rife with depictions of horror and trauma to rival later genre offerings.
The horror genre lends itself quite neatly to these suggestions; the genre is a veritable playground for campaigns of all kinds. The unique canvas it provides allows for revealing social injustice and calling for change to be laid out at its most base level and in gruesome detail. Shakespeare’s connection with the unnamed, burgeoning genre that would gain a stronghold centuries after his death is evident in his proclivity for speculative writing, which leans decidedly towards the supernatural rather than the cosmic.
Shakespeare’s depiction of human nature and its consequent relationship with what we now call horror is more a sign of the times than literary coincidence. The psychological warfare that Shakespeare engages his characters permeates his body of work, most notably illustrated in Iago’s manipulation of Othello. On close review one can find reflections of this kind of turbulent undercurrent in many modern horror works, whether using the mind against itself or man against man – an example of this is the slow build in The Graveyard Apartment by Mariko Koike. Books of this nature reflect inner turmoil, blatant manipulation, and, sometimes, a ghost of two.
Shakespeare is a pioneer of what we now consider horror fiction… When I said it this time it didn’t sting as much, did it? This paper made you see his writing through a different lens – at the very least, made you think about the possibility of its truth, didn’t it? For you Shakespeare fans, perhaps this assertion pushes the horror genre into review as more than just a genre intended to frighten or one focused on social commentary and/or judgment without redemption; maybe this will entice you to peel the onion a bit. For you horror fans, I know… we already knew.
L. Marie Wood is an award-winning psychological horror author and screenwriter. She won the Golden Stake Award for her novel The Promise Keeper. Her screenplays have won Best Horror, Best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi, and Best Short Screenplay awards at several film festivals. Wood’s short fiction has been published widely, most recently in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire and Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology, Sycorax’s Daughters.
Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.
The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and
maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.
Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.
You Make the Call
The Ritual– Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.
I Didn’t Finish It
We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.
My mom was a school librarian and didn’t place any limits on what I read, figuring that if it was too mature for me, I simply wouldn’t understand it. She limited what I could watch, though. I wasn’t allowed to see The Exorcist in the theater, but she didn’t stop me from reading the novel. Long after everyone I knew was terrified—or claimed they were terrified—by the movie, I checked the novel out of the public library.
The part that struck me more than anything else was Blatty’s introduction, in which a man is tortured in a dirty prison cell with a cattle prod and a bucket of water. I was a farm girl. My dad’s cattle prod lived on the telephone desk in the kitchen, where it was close to hand in case the cows got out. I knew a cattle prod would make a 1200-pound steer sit down. I could easily imagine what it would do to a man.
Blatty’s point was that men did such evil to each other that demonic possession was easy to believe in. It would be decades before I wondered about humans possessing demons.
A couple of years after I read the novel, I came home from university one weekend when my parents weren’t home. Of course I invited a couple of friends over to my folks’ place in the country. Because there was whiskey involved, everyone was expected to spend the night.
My memories of that night come in fragments, like a broken kaleidoscope: there was pizza. Under-aged boys. My best friend from high school. It goes without saying there was puking.
In the middle of the night, I crawled out to the family room with my misery. Unable to sleep at the best of times, my friend Martha had the TV on. The only thing she could find to watch in the middle of that interminable night was The Exorcist.
I wonder now if the movie had been edited for TV. I remember the boils and the pea soup and the backbend and the spinning head. The possession was not, by a long stretch, the most horrific thing I saw that night.
Even so, Father Merrin, speaking the rites, lodged in my imagination.
Many years later, Brian Thomas followed the story I’d written about a succubus meeting an angel by possessing my succubus with a mortal girl’s soul. Suddenly, Brian and I were writing the book that would come to be called Lost Angels.
Clearly, if there was a possession, there would need to be an exorcist. I didn’t grow up Catholic, so I don’t know the rituals of the Church. I do know–all too well–how it feels to be a young woman completely out of control, when something else takes control of your body and poisons you. The possession was easy to write. The exorcism worried me. I wanted to get it right, to do justice to my influences.
Poking around in the Brand Bookstore in Glendale with Brian, I came across Exorcism Through the Ages, published in 1974 by the Philosophical Library of New York. It was exactly the book I needed to guide the exorcism of a mortal girl’s soul from the succubus Lorelei. Wheels within wheels: a historical overview of exorcism inspired by a fictional exorcism inspired by the real-life exorcism of Roland Doe…and all of it inspiring the events in the back room at Lost Angels.
Here’s a little taste of the exorcism at Lost Angels:
The exorcism was working. Lorelei felt a dreadful tearing in her chest, like the agony a cell feels as it divides.
Joseph watched her closely. He raised his hands to shoulder height, palms facing her, and began to pray. “Satan, Father of Lies, Author of Evil, look in pity on this your servant, now caught up in the coils of this human spirit. Unravel this angelic labyrinth, break asunder these snares and traps, put this childish ghost to flight. By this sign,”—he drew an upside cross—“let your servant be protected. Keep watch over the inmost recesses of her heart, rule over her emotions, strengthen her will. Let vanish from her flesh the temptations of this human child. As we call on your name, O Satan, allow this child to retreat in grace and in peace, so that this servant of yours may sincerely and steadfastly render you the service which is your due.”
The agony spiraled beyond anything Lorelei had previously imagined. The more she tried to shove aside Ashleigh’s ghost, the more of her own spirit she felt ripped away. Her flesh had turned to stone, galvanized by lightning. She convulsed and arced and struggled, breathing out a steady tormented moan.
Content warning, there will be a non-graphic discussion of sexual assault and rape in this review.
I finished Death Masks by Kim Richards a few days ago and I’ve been rolling it around in my head, trying to decide what I thought about it.
After some thought, my take is that Death Masks has two stories, one I enjoyed quite a bit and one I didn’t care for very much at all.
Both stories revolve around Bill. On the surface, Bill is a fairly stereotypical character if you asked for a standard model “IT professional”: out of shape, overweight, plays video games on his lunch break, not much for physical activity, or being outwardly social. If that was all there was to him, he’d be a fairly boring, one-dimensional character, one we have seen in countless other books and media featuring awkward, doughy men who have grown up and managed to make their adolescent computer nerdery their profession. However, what saves Bill from being a caricature is the emotional realism that Kim Richards uses when writing him, in particular regarding his relationship with his girlfriend Dixie, and that is the story, their relationship, that I enjoyed most in this book.
Dixie is the opposite of Bill in pretty much every way. Smaller where Bill is large, conventionally attractive for a woman while Bill is kind of a slob, Dixie is a nurse at the local hospital, a profession that works with people while her boyfriend works with machines. She’s an artist, primarily working with sculpture and plaster casts, and athletic in that she works out, goes jogging, and enjoys social dancing, particularly salsa, while Bill would rather drink a six pack, eat some pizza, and shoot pixel zombies. If Bill was true to the stereotype, he might try to passive-aggressively keep Dixie from the things that she enjoys that he doesn’t care about, particularly if they could threaten his relationship with her (like the dancing), but instead Richards writes him in a mature fashion, that even if he isn’t into the things Dixie enjoys, he supports her love of them because they bring her happiness and feed her soul. Early in the book, in chapter three, we have a great example of this as they go “dancing”, or Dixie goes dancing and Bill watches her. While he does acknowledge the occasional pang of jealousy, the focus is more on enjoying Dixie’s happiness and wanting to support her (it doesn’t hurt that she’s gorgeous and it’s a turn on for him to watch her dance). The same goes for her art; she has her own space in the basement that he remarks could make a good home office for him so he could do work from home more easily, but that would mean impacting her personal artistic space and he’d rather not. Seeing the consideration he pays her in regards to the things she enjoys (and the fact that she never gives him crap about his own interests that she doesn’t share) was a nice change of pace and a nice break from an otherwise stereotypical character.
The other aspect of their relationship that made me enjoy this part of the book was how Bill tries to support Dixie’s mental illness. Dixie suffers from depression and anxiety, primarily linked to particular times of the year such as fall and winter as well as Christmas specifically. This illness impacts how she interacts with Bill, at times being snappish or making things more difficult as he tries to navigate the complexities of her illness, and impacts her life in all of the myriad ways that depression and anxiety can. Not once does Bill treat her with anything less than respect and understanding and while he does worry about her, he doesn’t make his concern her problem so that she has to manage him managing her illness. He speaks with her counselor to strategize on ways he might be able to help her and he tries to be thoughtful about her condition. As someone who has had people close to him deal with such illnesses, watching Bill do his best to be helpful and take care of Dixie felt familiar and very real in a personal way.
While those were the main aspects of Death Masks that I enjoyed, the rest of the plot wasn’t to my tastes.
The main conflict of the other plotline of Death Masks is Bill’s interactions with an unknown assailant. Early in the book, Bill has what might be a very minor heart attack and it scares him into action to try to better his health. In order to do this, he decides to take up walking (with the intent to move up to running when he’s in better condition to) and goes to the nearby park. While on his first foray into fitness, he comes across a scene on one of the paths: a thin figure hunched over the fallen body of a young man, another jogger. Thinking the man on the ground is being robbed, Bill tries to intercede but despite the size difference, the attacker being much smaller, Bill is quickly overcome and rendered unconscious. Before he is clubbed over the head with a rock, he looks up into the face of his attacker and sees a skeletal visage looking back at him.
We as the reader are given glimpses into the attacker’s mind, a serial killer who uses a syringe full of some unnamed drug that almost instantaneously paralyzes those injected with it. We later learn that the killer targets men of a particular standard of physical attractiveness, stalking them from the bushes of the park’s jogging trails before ambushing them and taking them away to be buried alive while still paralyzed. Throughout the book we come to learn the attacker’s motivations, that they are seeking revenge for childhood wrongs perpetrated on them by their brother and his friends, a gang of drug-using thugs and criminals who sexually assault the attacker, first as what they were told was a gang initiation and later on just because they could.
Can I just say that I am extremely tired of this use of sexual violence in fiction? Need to have a woman with a traumatic backstory? Have her be raped. Got to give a killer a reason for revenge? They were sexually assaulted. Have to put the female main character in a situation where they are in harm’s way? Have the threat be the explicit potential of them being raped. The use of something so serious feels lazy and, to me, disrespectful. With how traumatic real-life sexual violence can be, using it as the defining moment for why the villain is evil feels like it cheapens the reality of it for me and, depending on your reading, might not speak kindly to victims of such experiences.
That said, the parts of the book that involve the park stalker struck me as unrealistic. A drug that works the same on people of various body types, regardless of how much they are given, without some suffering side-effects from the drug and nearly instantaneously? The police, when they are involved, are needlessly antagonistic and almost painfully disinterested at times. Despite the fact that the killer racks up a nine-victim body count, there is no rising consciousness of people of a particular gender going missing after visiting the park until very late in the book and, even then, the police are almost entirely dismissive of anything Bill has to say. Finally, in the end, Bill realizes the true identity of the killer when he hears their voice, recognizing it, but somehow fails to do so in their first encounter when he hears the killer speak. The twist of the reveal of the killer’s identity wasn’t really much of a twist and despite the killer’s earlier martial prowess, sweeping Bill off his feet, pinning him to the ground, and clubbing him unconscious, none of that was apparent in the final confrontation.
My other criticism of the book is that the ending felt rushed, the final showdown only a few pages long.
While I feel like Death Masks started out strong, with Bill and Dixie being complex and well-rounded characters, the killer felt flat and disinteresting in comparison. With the rushed ending and some plot details that seemed inserted only to provide ineffective blinds for the killer’s true identity, the unfortunate impression I’m left with is one of a missed opportunity.
It is a generally accepted truism among film historians that half of all films made before 1950 are lost. No copies are known to exist. By that metric, vast swathes of the horror films of the first half of the 20th Century should be unavailable for viewing. And yet…
Let’s take a headcount. The big one is, of course, Lon Chaney’s 1927 film, London After Midnight. The last known copy was destroyed in a fire in the mid-50s, and it has been The Holy Grail for horror fans ever since. Turner Classic Movies has assembled a sort of replica out of stills and the shooting script, but that’s a poor substitute.
What else? The 1930 version of The Cat and the Canary, entitled The Cat Creeps, both English and Spanish versions. The first two Golem films Paul Wegener made in Germany during the First World War. The second version of Frankenstein, Life Without Soul, from 1915, and an Italian version, Il Mostro de Frankenstein from 1921. Um…
Yes, there are more, but not as many major ones as one might think. Wonder why that is?
To find that out, we must needs peer back into the dark and abyss of time, to 1910. Carl Laemmle, a film exhibitor in New York City, decided he’d had enough of paying a royalty to Thomas Edison every time he used a movie projector. He also had a desire to make his own movies, but Edison collected even more exorbitant sums from anyone with the temerity to use one of his patented cameras. Laemmle’s solution was to uproot his whole operation, which consisted mostly of his relatives and relocate to somewhere in California, anywhere in California, far away from Thomas Edison and his patent attorneys. How about that sleeping little farming community near Los Angeles called Hollywood? Sure, sounds good. He called his new organization Universal Pictures. He set up shop out there and started making movies.
Within a couple of years, Jesse Lasky’s Famous Players followed suit, becoming Paramount Pictures in 1912. And so on, until Edison gave up on enforcing his patents and all the other studios followed Laemmle out to Hollywood.
Here’s the thing about Carl Laemmle: He never really caught on to the notion that feature-length was the way movies should be made. He was of the opinion that one or two reels per picture was plenty, each reel spooling out at roughly ten minutes. His underlings, Irving Thalberg and his son, Carl, Junior, among them, managed to convince him to allow longer productions, but Universal films still tended towards the shorter lengths. Nothing like the eight hours Erich von Stroheim was originally granted to make films like Greed over at M-G-M in 1924, but one of the biggest stars of the day, Lon Chaney, made a couple that hovered around an hour long while he was at Universal, The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera among them. Before long, both Chaney and Thalberg had moved over to M-G-M, and it was up to Carl, Junior, to convince the old man to let him make feature films. Senior gave in, but was still loathe to let things get too far out of hand.
And so it is that once Universal get into the horror movie business in 1931 with Dracula and then Frankenstein, these films are still a tad shorter than the standard feature-length. Dracula came in at an hour and fifteen minutes, Frankenstein at an hour and ten minutes.
Which has what to do with the state of film preservation that seems to favor our beloved genre over others? Simply this – that when Universal started marketing fifty-two of their classic horror films to television in October of 1957 under the name Shock!, that just-over-an-hour length was very attractive. Add in the right number of commercials, and Shock Theater, as the release was generally called by the local television stations, came in at a comfortable hour and a half time slot. The program managers at those stations liked that ninety-minute block, and gobbled up the package all over the United States. There was even room for a local host to make a few jokes about the picture, and still, fit everything in. Another batch containing both Universal and Columbia releases the next year called Son of Shock made the old monster films a national phenomenon.
America went monster crazy. Every scary picture ever made was resurrected from whatever archive it had been interred in to be shown on late-night weekend, early morning, or after school television. Hence, the unusual percentage of old horror pictures that survived, in comparison with most other genres.
Inspired by the renewed interest in the classics, American International, a Poverty Row studio that specialized in teen-oriented films for drive-in theaters, switched from hot rods and motorcycle gangs to teenage werewolves, Frankensteins, and cavemen. They hired Roger Corman to make black-and-white fright films on a budget, and once the studio had raked in enough teenage dollars, they bought some color stock and turned Corman loose on Edgar Allen Poe. England got in on the action, too, and Hammer films began remaking the old classics in lurid color. A new generation of horror stars arose – Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, along with a new set of scream queens in tight Victorian bodices barely containing their, um, huge tracts of land. Monsters weren’t just hip – they were sexy!
Of course, at the tender age at which I began to absorb all this cinematic mayhem in the early 1960s, sexy wasn’t really an issue for me. I just liked the stuff – the model kits, the toys, the Halloween costumes, the games, the television shows.
And the magazines. In particular, one magazine. The one essential chronicle of all that was unholy in the popular culture of the 1960s and beyond – Famous Monsters of Filmland.
Back in 1957, before I was even a gleam in my daddy’s eye, legendary science fiction fan, and collector, and literary agent to the speculative fiction field, Forrest J. Ackerman, had come across a French magazine, Cinema, while on a tour of science fiction conventions in Europe. The specific issue he found featured articles on horror movies, and even had a picture of Henry Hull’s lycanthrope from the 1935 Universal picture, The Werewolf of London, on the cover.
Once back in the states, Ackerman contacted a men’s (read, girly) magazine publisher named James Warren who had lost his shirt on his previous publication and was looking for something to put his last few dollars into. Ackerman sold Warren on the idea of a one-shot about the classic horror films, using stills from Ackerman’s own extensive collection and written by Ackerman himself in a sort of jokey, corny and yet very ingratiating style that later generations of comic-book fans might associate more closely with Stan Lee. The idea was for it to appeal to an ideal demographic of eleven-and-a-half-year-old boys. Younger and older ones with thirty-five cents would be welcome to purchase a copy, however, as well as girls of all ages.
Ackerman began assembling his first issue, but Warren couldn’t find a distributor. Fortunately, Life Magazine ran an article on the resurgence of interest in the old horror pictures, and suddenly any publication with a monster on the cover was pure gold. That first issue appeared on newsstands in February of 1958, Warren himself pictured on the cover in a Frankenstein mask ‘menacing’ his girlfriend. The furor over the horrors of yesteryear demanded an ongoing series, and so it was ordained. It was six months before the second issue came out, but by the third, dated April, 1959, FM (as true fans know it) was appearing quarterly. By the tenth issue, it was bi-monthly. It ran as a Warren publication until 1983 and has been revived a couple of times since then by other publishers.
The first issue I ever got my hands on was Number 35, dated October 1965. I had just turned seven. I have no recollection of how I acquired it, although I suspect I traded for it with one of the kids in the neighborhood. Probably swapped a comic book or two for it. That was still a thing in 1965. Anyhow, I thought we might flip through it and see what horrors lurk inside.
The cover is by Vic Prezio, depicting Bela Lugosi as Dracula. Not from the 1931 Dracula, the older vampire from Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Not sure if that was the intent, but it seems that way to me. Basil Gogos is the artist most often associated with FM covers, but Prezio did a fair number in this period. The inside front cover is a close-up photo of Oliver Reed’s lycanthrope from the 1961 Hammer film, Curse of the Werewolf. Page 3 is a synopsis of the contents, followed by ads for the Famous Monsters of Filmland Club, free to join with the attached coupon, and for the 1966 Yearbook. Then, there’s a table of contents, followed by a photo of Lugosi that I believe is from 1935’s Mark of the Vampire. It’s labeled ‘Public Vampire No. 1’. Subtle, ain’t it?
The first article covers Lugosi’s 1951 trip to England, during which time he gave lots of interviews and co-starred in a film variously called Vampires Over London, My Son the Vampire and Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire. Old Mother Riley was a popular character in English comedies at the time, played by comedian Arthur Lucan in drag. Not Bela’s finest moment, although much worse was yet to come.
A full-page close-up still of Boris Karloff as the Frankenstein monster is followed by the announcement of the winner of an amateur film-maker’s contest, won by Madona Marchant, who by the time this issue went to press had married cartoonist Rich Corben. Corben went on to have a long career illustrating horror comics for Warren’s Creepy and Eerie magazines, as well as the American iteration of the Heavy Metal magazine.
More on all those publications in a future installment of this column. Stay, as they say, tuned.
A rather interesting article is next, about the recently (at the time) discovered first film ever made by Charlton Heston. Heston was a seventeen-year-old high school student when he starred in an amateur film version of the Henryk Ibsen play, Peer Gynt. You can find it here:
Heston went on to star in the best version to date of the Richard Matheson novel, I Am Legend, 1971’s Omega Man. Moses vs Vampires! Who could resist that?
The backlash by parents worried that horror movies, like horror comics a decade before, were warping their precious offspring, is addressed in the next article, “Monster Are Good for My Children – Yours Too!!!” I found it more persuasive than my mom and dad did, alas. Still, I survived and have yet to commit any of the atrocities forecast by those who were sure we monster fans were all destined to be mass murderers. Yet, being the operative word here.
One of the many ads for short snippets of eight-millimeter films scattered throughout the magazine follows, then came the Mystery Photo. This was a regular feature, an obscure still with vague clues to tantalize the fans, the answer to be revealed in the next issue.
Nine pages are devoted to one of the absolute worst horror movies of the first half of the 1960s, Night of the Blood Beast. Why? I have no idea. A few pages of miniatures photographed in Frankensteinian dioramas in France is followed by another regular feature, Hidden Horrors, in this case, a close-up of Norman Bates’ mother from Psycho. Mom’s looking a bit peaked there, Normie.
We then get a synopsis with stills of the American release of Godzilla (1956), Revenge of Mystery Lines (a horror movie quotes quiz), You Axed for It! (reader requested stills), and a two-page advertisement for back issues. “The Gordons Will Get You!” concerns the cheesy b-movie makers Alex and Rich Gordon, who made several of the very first horror-SciFi movies I remember seeing on television. More ads, then a two-page spread on Lon Chaney, Junior’s 1952 appearance as the Frankenstein monster on the television series, Tales of Tomorrow, which like most early television was broadcast live. No mention is made, however, of Chaney being too far in his cups to realize it wasn’t a rehearsal. He was therefore very careful to not break any of the furniture he was supposed to, thinking it would be needed for the ‘real’ broadcast. Sort of diminished the verisimilitude, that.
A letters page, Monster Mail Call, and Headlines from Horrorsville finished up the editorial content and were followed by over twenty pages of ads for 8mm films, projectors on which to show said films, books, records, masks, decals, the first few issues of Creepy, knickknacks, gewgaws and various odds and ends. All the advertising indicated the goodies were to be ordered from Captain Company, Warren’s own distributor of the sundries sold throughout the issue, and every issue for the magazine’s run. The history of Captain Company will no doubt be told in a future installment.
That’s a pretty average issue, regardless of year. FM reprinted content constantly, so every article in this issue showed up in a later one. In the 1970s, Star Wars sort of took over, but you could always count on the monsters of yesterday filling in. I happened to be reading a much later issue containing an article on 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein reprinted from God-knows which earlier issue the first time I heard “Your Move” by progressive rock band Yes on the radio, in about 1971. To this day, I can’t hear the song without thinking about the movie, and vice versa. Funny how memory works, isn’t it?
I did meet Ackerman, once, in 1980. He was one of several guests at the Nashville science fiction convention that year, Kubla Khan Ate, with Stephen King being the main Guest of Honor. ‘Uncle Forry’ showed me the rings he was wearing, one that Lugosi wore in Dracula in 1931, the other worn by Karloff in The Mummy the next year. We had a nice chat about those films, and others then settled down to discuss silent films of all genres. It was one of those pleasant little interludes that occurred at cons in those days. One of many things I miss from my misspent youth. I did run into King, briefly, the last day of that convention. I spent considerably more time with him a few years later, at the 1983 DeepSouth Con in Knoxville. More on that later.
So, there it is. I do hope folks are enjoying these little excursions through my monstrous memories. Expect more next month, when the theme for the first part of April is religious horror. No idea as of yet what I’ll share about that topic, but I hope it will be interesting. Until, then, as always —
Before I begin I need to admit that when I chose The Bonecarverto review I wasn’t aware that it was book two in a series and, if I had, I wouldn’t have picked it up having not read the first. While this book doesn’t rely too heavily on the plot from the book before, recurring characters and their past history with the main character might have resonated and made more impact if I had their complete backstory.
The Bonecarver is the story of Rachel Cleary, a teenage girl attending Ridge Crest High in the small New England town of Shadow Grove. Despite its small and sleepy nature, the town of Shadow Grove is one of mysteries that hide a darkness beneath the surface, where terrible events happen but are covered up by those in charge. Only recently recovering from an encounter with a being called the Night Weaver, responsible for the deaths and disappearances of several children, Shadow Grove has moved on in its silent fashion, ignoring the strangeness and tragedy that had befallen it.
We are introduced to Rachel as she is attempting to take her SATs when a panic attack forces her outside, abandoning the test. While in the bathroom to calm down with a small amount of privacy, she helps save her classmate Mercia Holstein from an epileptic seizure. During this encounter, Rachel finds a small, carved figurine of bone in Mercia’s likeness, her pose and expression identical to her in the midst of her seizure. After this, more terrible things begin to happen to people around the town, each preceded by the appearance of a bone carving of the victim in the midst of an accident. After the discovery of a boneless corpse at her school and a frightening encounter with a strange fae, Rachel’s investigation of the threat takes her into the Fae world in search of allies and, when she returns home, she finds Shadow Grove in chaos as she confronts the creature known as the Bonecarver.
The parts of The Bonecarver that I enjoyed most were some of the descriptions. Monique Snyman does a good job of painting pictures of what she would like you to see and experience, often using all five senses to bring you into the scene. Settings are vivid, movement and action are easily imagined, and her take on classic fae like the Sluagh are memorable. The final climactic scene between Rachel and the Bonecarver is particularly theatrical.
That said The Bonecarver didn’t work for me in several ways. The first half of the book felt slow and stilted, taking quite some time to get going (although the second half of the book flowed much more quickly and felt like the actual story she wanted to tell). Discoveries felt awkwardly placed rather than organically made as if Rachel were stumbling through everything by luck, rather than any kind of skill.
While descriptions were vivid, they sometimes didn’t make realistic sense. For instance, we are told that the highschool was originally a “tiny schoolhouse with three classrooms and an outhouse” but has grown into a large, U-shaped building complete with bell tower, auditorium, cafeteria, indoor swimming pool, and enough classroom space to accommodate three thousand students, all of which were made possible by donations from generous alumni. However, despite the influx of money that made such expansion possible, large portions of the school have fallen into disrepair and “quickly [became] forgotten” because they aren’t used (for instance, Rachel notes that the pool was not filled at any point since she started attending high school). Why would a town waste money expanding a school in such a way without the population to warrant it, only to let it become decrepit? If the town received enough money to expand in such a way, did the money then dry up so that they couldn’t afford maintenance on it? Later the story takes us to the local hospital whose parking lot is full of cars placed there by the town council to make the hospital look busy, only they have begun to rust and fall apart, giving the parking lot more of a junkyard feel. Why is the hospital being busy important? How does the decision to fill the parking lot in such a way, when there are no people to accompany those cars, actually do anything to reach the stated goal of appearing “busy”?
The impression I received reading The Bonecarver was that there were often certain settings and scenes that Snyman wanted and so came up with explanations for them regardless of how much sense those explanations made. In order to have a long, protracted chase scene through the highschool, the highschool has to be large enough to accommodate it (including a ventilation system large enough for people to crawl through), despite a small New England town theoretically not needing a school that big. Rachel finds the boneless corpse in the boiler room of the old school house, which is described equally as being part of the physical structure of the modern high school but also considered a distinctly separate part of the high school because of its disuse, but why would the original school house have a boiler room when it had no plumbing? These are just two examples but this felt like a problem throughout.
Another main issue I took with the book was the almost casual use of sexual assault and threat of sexual violence. While in the Fae world, Rachel is sexually assaulted when a soldier sneaks up and grabs her from behind, fondling her breast in the process, before explaining how he’s going to rape her. She’s able to free herself and escape but the whole scene lacks any emotional punch; the fact that a high school girl was able to extricate herself from an adult, professional soldier with a single backwards thrown elbow makes it seem like the scene was written more to provide Rachel a horse to ride to advance the plot. In that case, threatening to have her raped feels like a cheap gimmick to up the danger of the scene that could have had as much gravitas without it.
We also encounter Nova, a king in the Fae world and brother to Orion, the ally that Rachel goes in search of. While he is present in the book, we learn that he has threatened to rape her in the past but despite this they almost have a cordial interaction when she helps him search for something he lost. However, when confronted with his brother, Nova sexually assaults Rachel in front of him by licking the side of her face and telling Orion what he wants to do to her, using this threat of sexual violence to force Orion to agree to leave the Fae world. Again, this feels like this happens because of the math that if violence is bad, then sexual violence must be worse, when it was completely unnecessary for the scene.
It does make a certain amount of sense when you consider that Rachel Cleary and The Bonecarver definitely fall into that subrenre of dark fantasy YA fiction characterized by Twilight, of the young female protagonist who doesn’t know her own attractiveness but most male characters desire. If Rachel’s worth stems from her unrealized beauty and physical body, then it makes sense that threats to her would be based around the thing being valued. Ultimately, this is the main conflict of The Bonecarver and the primary impetus for why the threat of the Bonecarver exists, which is a sad commentary on why these male characters find her to be important.
Ultimately The Bonecarver didn’t work for me but if you’re a fan of YA dark fantasy focusing around a female protagonist meant to be strong, overcoming challenges and defeating threats, then it may be for you.
Alien: Covenant – the latest film in the Alien franchise and the 2017 sequel to Prometheus – struggles with its franchise identity crisis, leaving the potentially interesting science fiction parables and body horror monsters wanting in the confusion.
When the colonization vessel Covenant is damaged by passing neutrino blasts, the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) must wake terraforming chief Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and the rest of the crew. After receiving a nearby signal from a mysterious, too good to be true planet much closer than their original vetted destination, leader Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. Unfortunately, inhaled alien toxins on the surface birth beastly parasites, and David (also Fassbender) – the android survivor of the lost research vessel Prometheus – has been living alone on the planet for the past ten years, studying the remaining Engineer evolution techniques and perfecting their monstrous designs with terrifying results…
Whether it’s Prometheus 2 or Alien 5, Alien: Covenant is immediately frustrating. If this is really an Alien movie, then Prometheus never should have held anything back in hopes of a sequel and just told its tale in one movie. However, returning director Ridley Scott and screenplay writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) play it both ways as Alien: Covenant opens with android quizzes on The Statue of David, Wagner gems, and Valhalla. Such meaning of meaninglessness threads from Prometheus will confuse viewers who didn’t see it, and Alien: Covenant restarts with the titular colony vessel and its android custodian, Mother computer, and crew in stasis almost as if it’s trying to reboot said predecessor. Fortunately, pod fatalities, charred bodies, memento mori, and offline systems build suspense while radio chatter, spacesuits, and rogue transmissions create a science fiction atmosphere. Eerie forest destruction, Pompeii-like remains and crashed ships add mood but drop ships and lost contact are similar to Aliens while inconveniently convenient planetary storms mirror Prometheus. An entire team trots off for an expedition – leaving only one person behind to make lander repairs – before separating further so a careless guy taking a leak can get infected by some spooky alien particles. Educated people ask obvious questions to which they should already know the answers, adding stilted dialogue on top of back and forth scenes deflating the body horror when not acting stupid for the plot to proceed by willfully scratching and sniffing mystery polyps and not reporting when they feel sick. Friends insist on taking the infected back to the ship, but there’s no procedure amid the hectic radio calls and blood splatter. Women are on the mission just to whine – one tries to lock in another when both are equally contaminated and the visual hysterics don’t let the viewer actually see the out of control. Cutting to what’s happening elsewhere is a mistake when it leaves the bloody reveal a blink and you miss it special effect. It’s scarier when people are trapped with a fast growing monster building claustrophobic fear toward fatal ship explosions. However, the paired off crew members react so over emotionally to death yet barely at all to the creature shocks, necropolis infrastructure, and the suspicious survivor found there. Flashbacks and exposition detailing the pathogens, crashes, and destruction post-Prometheus ten years prior is really where Alien: Covenant should have begun, but we’re watching a woman strip down to wash her open wound in what hopefully isn’t contaminated water instead. After objecting to flying the colony ship down to the planet, minutes later the crew changes their minds once the route is more dangerous while fast action scenes, convoluted lingering, and rushed quality scenes contribute to the unevenness, hampering creepy encounters with new aliens, familiar eggs, and delicious face-hugger revelations. From the prologue to the ship and the planet to the necropolis, rival androids, and onboard terrors; Alien: Covenant is an overlong and confusing two hours with cargo bay trucks, out the airlock solutions, and unnecessary sexy showers littering a nonsensical Aliens copycat finale. What should be wonderfully chilling – gagging up mini alien eggs for the incubator to the Ride of the Valkyries – treads tires because between all the Prometheus rewrites, the four credited writers here, and who knows what more behind the scenes meddling, nobody mapped out where this disappointing prequel plot goes.
There was a time when I was excited for whatever film Michael Fassbender did next. Unfortunately, somewhere around Macbeth or Steve Jobs, Fassbender sold out with all these non-starters and uninteresting flops. Despite this superb dual performance as the poetic, T.E. Lawrence obsessed android David and the clueless but loyal and supposedly inferior model Walter, it’s difficult to look back at Hunger and believe this is the same actor who once so bled for his craft. It’s totally obvious what David is going to do, and the entire homoerotic flute fingering sequence is the invisible car of Die Another Day franchise rock bottom. Surely, there was a better way to show Walter as a stunted childlike machine designed as lacking creativity expressly because David was so disturbingly human in his desires. It might even have been more interesting to not reveal Walter as an android until the xenomorph acid destroys his hand when he protects Daniels. Walter naively thinks he can gain the details from David regarding their creator Weyland and how the Prometheus survivor came to be on this planet. However, David waxes on Lord Byron and thinks himself Crusoe, admonishing Walter for serving the unworthy, dying humans. He preys on Walter’s potential, saying it is love, not duty he feels for Daniels, revealing himself as an abuser who already destroyed the life on this planet. David wants to communicate with the neomorphs and earn their respect while he experiments with the hybrids. Walter knows this is wrong, but David is pleased with himself for creating the perfect organism – and he’s very disappointed in Walter for standing in his way. David has at last procreated, and it’s chilling to see his views realized in several wild births, radical experiments, and violent assaults. Sadly, Alien: Covenant’s clunky exposition and trite script ruin the intriguing android developments with ridiculous encounters and not-so-secret switcharoos leaving no resolution for Walter when both characters deserved more. Alien: Covenant may awe over David’s ambition and chew on the possibilities, but there’s so much happening the audience doesn’t have any time to revoltingly enjoy the villainy.
Although Sam’s daughter Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is supposed to be the lead, Danny doesn’t do a lot beyond wearing her deceased husband’s iron nail around her neck in a messianic loose thread similar to Shaw’s cross in Prometheus. She’s made less pretty than the other women, and when she officially protests stopping at this perfect planet, she’s presented as a moody bitch only sharing her emo grief misgivings because there’s no point in a home now without her man. Naturally, all the men are allowed reckless manpain over their ladies while Danny easily discovers what David has done when the script bothers to have her look. By the final act she conveniently wants a 2,000 strong colony ship to rescue her just because the plot says it’s time to let the xenomorph onboard and make her a kick-ass action hero. Billy Crudup’s (Inventing the Abbotts) reluctantly in charge supposed man of faith Oram only decides on this planet to prove he’s up to snuff and doesn’t realize he messed up until it personally affects him. Tennessee cool pilot Danny McBride (Your Highness) recognizes John Denver music in the alien signal amid all his sexist jokes before risking the entire mission for his woman – whom viewers already know to be dead. Of course, shortly thereafter, he’s laying the groundwork for his next hook-up. A brief prologue appearance from Guy Pearce (Brimstone) returning as Peter Weyland should have come at the end of Alien: Covenant to fully accent David’s twisted achievements, and Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is unceremoniously written off post-Prometheus with only a few effigies. We’re told she put David back together, he loved her for her kindness, and that’s that. The movie should have started with the Prometheus characters on this unknown planet and then met the colony ship only upon their arrival. Alien: Covenant is from the wrong perspective and overcrowded with far too many unnecessary characters – mostly screwing up husbands or similar looking wives raising the body count. Anonymous people being in relationships may make excuses for their behavior but it isn’t character development and doesn’t give viewers a reason to care. Showing two guys with matching wedding bands as an attempt at gay inclusion is also embarrassingly homophobic when their only scene is one dying after ejaculating a neomorph from his mouth. Sneaky James Franco (Tristan & Isolde) moments are silly as well because… it’s just James Franco in a promotional campaign for Alien: Covenant.
Thankfully, Covenant is a cool looking spaceship with solar sails, blue hues, green lighting, touch screens, and interface graphics along with red alarms, spooky chains, dangerous ladders, and perilous equipment. Unfortunately, fiery damage leads to CGI spacewalks and noticeable animation intruding upon the interstellar fantastic. Crowded submarine style rooms and music motifs from Aliens are also apparent amid waterfalls and mountain vistas borrowed from Prometheus. It’s also flat-out dumb to waste time on a cool drop ship water landing when there is terra firma everywhere, and what’s with all the dang hoodies? Blood, gore, and creative reverse alien births are appropriately disturbing, however, the surrounding CGI is again weak. Dark scenes and hectic firefights also make it difficult to see all those potentially intriguing hybrid creatures, twisted deliveries, and scary designs. The contrasting advanced ship technology and stranded apothecary research are likewise nice touches that deserved more time – embryos and stasis versus dissections and bestiary drawings. Facehugger scares, acid effects and freaky attacks are always fun to see, yet more than anything, these Alien homages cum knockoffs make one miss the originality and practical design advancements from Aliens. The spaceship action is very messy in Alien: Covenant with pointless, drawn-out action sequences littering the narrative, and it’s not surprising to read interviews with the film’s editor recounting the post-production struggle to balance these multiple storylines each playing at their own pace. Alien: Covenant needs to be re-watched for all its Alien movies pieces trying to bring together the creation theories from Prometheus via confusing Engineer goo, deacons, or xenomorphs yet this entire piece is also in dire need of a re-cut.
Instead of running with what was good from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant plays with its Prometheus connection the way Prometheus played with its Alien connection. Unfortunately, such inconsistent and contradictory carrots string along loyal franchise fans and won’t gain viewers who haven’t seen Alien. As with Prometheus and Alien 3 before, Alien: Covenant can’t serve both its masters and ultimately provides little repeat value, which ironically can be said for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Once again, we have no connection to LV-426 when all people ever wanted to know was how the Space Jockey got there in the first place. Frustration on such could haves or should haves being saved for yet more sequels compromises Alien: Covenant’s potentially entertaining science fiction, religious warnings, and monstrous possibilities with ennui.
Fiends in the Funnies, Creatures in the Comics by Mark Orr
One of my fondest memories of my pre-literate childhood is of sitting on the couch with my dad after he got home from work, or after church on Sundays, and he would read me the comic strips from the newspaper. He did all the voices differently, with lots of drama and humor and everything you’d want in a comics reader. Li’l Abner and Kerry Drake, Miss Peach and Grandma, Jimmy Hatlo’s They’ll Do it Every Time are all long-gone and forgotten now. Blondie and Dick Tracy and Nancy are still around, but who reads newspapers anymore?
Dad is eighty-eight and thinking about moving into an assisted living facility, so those memories are very much on my mind these days. I roll them over and over on my mind’s tongue, savoring as many of the minutes as I can call up after almost sixty years.
One thing I don’t recall is that any of our regular favorite comic strips in either of the Nashville papers of that time were in the least monstrous or horrific. Since I started accumulating material for my vast amorphous history of horror project some years ago, of which this column is a manifestation, I have looked for expressions of horror in all possible media, and generally found an abundance in each one. Except in the syndicated newspaper comic strips.
Full disclosure: I have not subscribed to a printed newspaper in years. However, I do subscribe to a daily service that sends approximately seventy-five comics strips to my email box every day. Of those seventy-five, exactly one has the kind of themes or characters one most often thinks of as horror-related. Almost all of them are more-or-less the typical gag-a-day strips usually found these days. Day-to-day continuity lasting over weeks and months is virtually a thing of the past.
Once upon a time, though, a significant proportion of the comics page was taken up with extended storylines in strips in all the genres represented in the medium – humor, drama, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, war, romance, soap operas, even religion. And thanks to the internet, a huge amount of that material is available for the perusal of historians of those bygone years.
I belong to what used to be a Yahoo group before Yahoo did away with groups, that mines online newspaper archives and stacks of slowly disintegrating newspapers for comic strips and disseminates them to the membership. I receive a minimum of sixty or seventy old comics strips every day, usually closer to two hundred. Some days, long runs covering years or decades of one or more particular strips will show up, and that count goes up into thousands or even tens of thousands. Of all the titles I receive, the ones with even peripherally or occasional horrific content go into a separate file on one of my external hard drives. The list is not a long one. It begins with…
Okay, so, if Dinosaurus can be sort of classified as a monster picture, or Jurassic Park or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms or The Giant Behemoth, then dinosaurs are monsters, right? They are monstrously big, and there are plenty you wouldn’t want to meet in person. Several strips have been set in that mythical period during which humans and dinosaurs ‘co-existed’.
The first was Our Antediluvian Ancestors, which ran from 1901 to roughly 1906. It was created by prolific cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper for the Hearst Syndicate.
There are only two currently running that I know of. One is B.C., a gag-a-day strip that only occasionally features dinosaurs, and then only in service of a specific joke. B.C. premiered seven months and eight days before I did, in 1958. Created by Johnny Hart (1931-2007), who also created The Wizard of Id (see the section on dragons, below), it is currently being produced by Hart’s grandson, Mason Mastroianni.
The longest-running dinosaur strip is Alley Oop, which debuted in 1932, three months and a day after my father. Are we seeing a trend here? Alley is a caveman who rides a brontosaurus named Dinny. In 1939, he and his girlfriend Ooola were snatched out of time and brought to the 20th Century by Professor Wonmugg’s time machine. I know of no one in my immediate or extended family born around that time. His subsequent adventures sent him all up and down the timeline, where (when?) he encountered ghosts and witches, among many other characters. In 1953 he found himself in the time of Macbeth as the events of Shakespeare’s play occurred, despite the play having little to do with the historical Macbeth.
Peter Piltdown was another anachronistic prehistoric comic strip, created by Mal Eaton. It ran from 1935 to 1946, then re-appeared in the pages of Boy’s Life Magazine in 1953 under the title of Rocky Stoneax. It lasted there until 1970. It was retitled because the Piltdown Man fossils had been found to be a hoax in the meantime, which is a whole ‘nother discussion I’ll save for later, if ever. Boy’s Life was produced by and for the Boy Scouts of America, so every Boomer boy who spent any time in Scouts likely ran across the strip. I remember it fondly, now that its original version has recently been among those I get via email from time to time.
Gary Larson’s The Far Side occasionally featured dinosaurs in his daily gags, usually observing the meteor about the wipe them out. They weren’t necessarily the focus of the strip, though, so that’s all I have to say about that.
Which of course leaves The Flintstones, although they began as a prime-time animated television series before appearing in newspaper syndication, as well as in comic books and other media. More dinosaurs used as props, generally, for the prehistoric antics of Fred and Barney and the gang.
One step up the monster ladder from dinosaurs would be, naturally, dragons. Dragons tend to pop up in strips set in Medieval times, along with witches and wizards and knights in shining armor. The aforementioned The Wizard of Id has been running since 1964. The dragon in that strip is the pet of the title character.
In 1937, Hal Foster turned the art chores on the Tarzan comic strip over to Burne Hogarth. He then began what has consistently been the most beautifully drawn comic strip ever since, Prince Valiant. Appearing only as a full-color Sunday strip, it has been drawn by John Cullen Murphy since 1971. Foster also gave legendary comic book artists Wally Wood and Gray Morrow tryouts before giving it over to Murphy. More of a Medieval adventure strip, the occasional dragons tend to be more-or-less lizards of unusual size, rather than true fire-breathers.
Two years before Prince Valiant, writer William McCleery and artist Ralph Fuller debuted Oaky Doaks, a strip about a Medieval farmboy who makes his own suit of armor out of a tin roof and goes about rescuing damsels in distress and slaying the odd dragon in the process. The strip ran until 1961.
Sir Bagby, created by brothers Rick and Bill Hackney, ran from 1957 to 1967. I’ve only got eighteen examples in my collection, but those few strips do include a polite but not altogether trustworthy dragon and a gryphon having an identity crisis.
There have been a number of science fiction comics strips with the occasional monster popping up like the saarlac in Return of the Jedi, but they weren’t really the focus of the strips. In this class we find Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Brick Bradford, Don Dixon and others, none of which warrant much more than a mention here. Worth looking at, but not particularly in this space.
Numerous comics strips have had the occasional spooky storyline, mostly ones that turn out to be less due to supernatural causes than the machinations of evil mortals. Oriental adventure strip character Ming Foo, who spouted more aphorisms in one strip than Charlie Chan managed in an entire movie, began life in 1934 as a ‘topper’ strip for the Little Annie Rooney Sunday page. Back in the days when Sunday comics were full page affairs instead of chopped up to fit five or six on one page, a secondary strip would often run at the top, over the main one, hence ‘topper’. Jungle Jim was the topper for Flash Gordon, Colonel Potterby for Blondie, and so forth. Ming Foo encountered a Mad Monster in 1940, a Sea of Mirthful Demons in 1941, and wandered about on the Graveyard Island in 1942. He vanished from the comics pages a year later.
In addition to his many years in the Saturday morning cartoon milieu, Bullwinkle enjoyed a few years as a daily comic strip. He spent a few months in 1963 in Transylvania, where everybody’s favorite moose encountered a Dr. Jekyll who looked suspiciously like Boris Karloff, Count Draculet, a ballet-dancing mummy, and a singing werewolf.
You would think that a comic strip about a character called The Phantom would have more supernatural content, but the Ghost Who Walks is no ghost. Rather, he was a generational hero whose costume and accouterments were passed down from father to son. He has faced the odd witch doctor since he was created in 1936 by Lee Falk, but that’s about it. His adventures are still appearing, and are even more popular in Australia, Scandinavia and India than in his home country.
Adaptations of popular books and stories in the daily comics were a fairly regular occurrence in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I have three separate adaptations of the classic Charles Dickens ghost story, A Christmas Carol, from 1937, 1950 and 1957. A strip called Famous Fiction adapted a couple of Edgar Allen Poe tales, “The Gold Bug” and “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, in the early 1940s. I’m sure there were others I have yet to track down.
There was a whole class of single panel comics during the Golden Age of Hollywood that were basically promotional strips for the studios, featuring the odd hobbies of the stars or hints that you really, really need to get out and see this or that movie when it comes around to your town. Horror movie stars such as Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney or Bela Lugosi were occasionally mentioned, which is just enough horror content to justify this paragraph. The titles of these strips included Closeup and Comedy, Private Lives and Seein’ Stars.
And now, we’re down to the four strips that can honestly be considered horror, that are truly inhabited, from beginning to end, top to bottom, side to side by monsters. The peripherals and occasionals are dealt with, and we’re left with these favored few. Over one hundred and twenty-five years of comic strip history, and this is what it boils down to.
And three of them are humorous.
Maybe the comic strip medium simply isn’t suitable for sustaining the tension of the genre. Perhaps three panels a day and a Sunday page just won’t bear the weight of true fright. Perhaps. Regardless, here they are:
Before creating the classic children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson came up with one of the great comic strips of all time. Barnaby was a five-year-old child who wished for a fairy godmother. What he got was a cigar smoking and rarely competent fairy godfather named Jackeen J. O’Malley. Their whimsical adventures meandered through plots involving standard issues of the day like scrap metal drives and victory gardens, but also ogres, gorgons, witches and wizards, and of course, Gus the Ghost. Never a success, Barnaby limped along from 1942 to 1952, never appearing in more than fifty-two newspapers. Still, Dorothy Parker loved it. There have been several reprints of the strip since 1943, when Holt issued two hardback volumes, both of which occupy honored places in my library. Fantagraphic Books has issued four volumes of a projected five-volume set of reprints covering the entire run. A play based on the characters was written and produced in 1946. It was adapted to television in 1959, starring Ron Howard as Barnaby and former Cowardly Lion Bert Lahr as Mr. O’Malley.
Russ Myers’ 1970 creation is still running. The title character is an alcoholic, cigar-smoking witch whose best friend is a troll. There’s a monster in a cave named Grelber who insults anyone foolish enough to get close to him. It’s a gag-a-day about these monsters and a few other beings. I’ve always enjoyed it, but it’s not scary. Moving on.
Gary is a vampire who has retired to suburbia with his demonic henchman, Leonard, a bedsheet-clad ghost named Owen, and a severed head in a jar named Travis. There’s also a zombie baby wandering around the neighborhood in one of those circular walker things all my grandkids had. Don’t try to tickle that baby. You’ll draw back a nub. It’s a gag-a-day, usually involving Leonard being horrible to anyone in reach, Owen whining about being dead or Travis wishing he still had limbs. Scary Gary was created by Mark Buford in 2008. It’s one of the seventy-five strips I get every morning in my email, and usually, the first one I read.
Finally, a serious comic strip with real continuity, starring daytime soap opera vampire Barnabas Collins. It was drawn by long-time comic book and comic strip artist Ken Bald under the penname Ken Bruce to avoid confusion with the other strip he was doing at the time, Dr. Kildare. Because those were so much alike. Dark Shadows had already been adapted to a Gold Key comic book that lasted thirty-five issues, and a long series of gothic romance novels by Marilyn Ross, who was actually William Edward Daniel Ross, because nobody would buy a gothic romance by a man in those days. Bald’s work on the newspaper version was beautifully done, a significant improvement over the comic books drawn by Joe Certa.
Which was probably why the strip lasted, oh, let me see…
A year. A YEAR? Seriously? One measly year?!?!?
‘Fraid so. March 14th, 1971 to March 11, 1972. That’s it. That’s all we get of the only truly horrific monster-populated comic strip ever created in the century and a quarter of the existence of the art form. Unless I’ve missed one, which is possible. If I have, please let me know in the comments.
Maybe we’ll have another one, someday, if the medium survives. We can only hope. In the meantime, as always…
Oh, one last thing: the article in the link below came to me too late for Women in Horror month, so I’ll just leave it here and let the populace peruse it at will.
Mark is a troubled teen in typical white suburbia. He gets in fights, sneaks out of the house, and smokes with his friends. He doesn’t fit into his parents’ ideal life of picket fences, neat lean lawns, and bland dinners. But teenage rebellion takes a turn for the dark when Mark discovers The Shack. At first just an oasis of peace, The Shack begins to ask more and more of Mark in return. Mark is helpless to resist the twisted, violent desires The Shack places in him.
Shelter for the Damned is a slow burn descent into madness. Mark is led into a world of violent reactionism until he finds himself too far to climb out. It’s horrifying to watch his descent. Even as he commits terrible acts, he is numb to the effect of it.
Thorn fearlessly writes the awkwardness of the teenage experience. It’s painful to look at sometimes. Teenagers don’t always make logical decisions; they are ruled by hormones and ego. Thorn manages to convey this well.
Mark is plagued by futility. He is dragged along by the plot, even as he is the one making decisions. It’s a great metaphor for the lack of control teens have over their own lives (externally and internally). Mark’s parents repeatedly ask him why he does what he does, something that he can’t answer. They beg him to change his behavior, which he never does. It’s a familiar feeling that I had while reading. From an outside perspective, it’s infuriating to watch Mark’s downward spiral.
Thorn absolutely nails his portrayal of white suburbia in the early 2000s (I should know, I was there): the eternal expanse of identical houses, the hidden poverty, and abuse, the teens scrabbling for a sense of individuality in a world of carbon copies. In the midst of this conformity, The Shack stands in sharp relief. It’s easy to see why Mark is so drawn to it, even without supernatural influences.
Thorn’s writing brings a literary element to the horror genre. His descriptions are vivid and realistic. He tends toward psychological horror rather than a gorefest. Not to say there isn’t gore, but Thorn treats it tastefully.
I would have liked to see Thorn explore the confusion of whether Mark was insane or possessed or plagued by an eldritch force. He introduced this in the middle of the book but left it unaddressed. I also think he could have played out more the effect each of the murders had on Mark’s psyche. Instead, Mark was too ready to move on from events.
While Shelter for the Damned stars teenagers, I would not classify it as Young Adult. It is a solid horror novel. I enjoyed reading it. Thorn’s writing is a joy to read. If you like supernatural dread, you’ll enjoy Shelter for the Damned.
You may also enjoy Mike Thorn’s short story collection Darkest Hours.
Welcome to HOWCON, everyone! My name is Naching T. Kassa, Head of Publishing for HorrorAddicts.net. Today, I’ll be discussing the fundamentals of the submission process and what every writer must know in order to increase their chances of being published. I’ll talk about preparing your story, guidelines for submission, market lists and submission trackers, and throw in a few words of wisdom at the end. There will also be some advice from a pretty awesome horror writer, so be sure to pay attention.
I. PREPARE YOUR STORY—Have you ever prepared for a job interview or a first date? You showered, right? Combed your hair? Brushed your teeth? You know how important a first impression is. And, making the right first impression on an editor or publisher is everything.
A.) PROOFREAD YOUR STORY—Would you show up to a first date with stinky breath, uncombed hair, and an unshowered bod? Of course, you wouldn’t! (Not unless you’re a werewolf.) So, why would you send your manuscript off in an unkempt state? When you send out a manuscript, it should be your best work. It should be polished, all the “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed. Everything should be in the correct tense and point of view. Check, check, and recheck. Have a Beta Reader go through it. Or, use a free online program to improve your manuscript. Here are the ones I use. If you can afford it, you can even pay for premium services.
a. GRAMMARLY —The free version of Grammarly helps with spell checking, grammar, and punctuation. Make sure you use common sense when viewing the suggestions it gives you. Sometimes, Grammarly acts drunk and you must send it home.
b. PROWRITINGAID—The free version of ProWritingAid is terrific when you need to check for Passive Voice, Repeated Sentence Starts, Grammar, Spelling, and all things writing. The only drawback to the free version is it only checks the first 500 words and you must continually delete 500 words to check the entire manuscript. Of course, you can try the free trial version or buy the premium if you like.
B. READ YOUR STORY ALOUD—I recommend reading your story aloud to a recording device before submitting. (Many phones and tablets have apps you can download.) Reading your story aloud will help you catch misspelled words and clunky phrases you may have missed while reading silently. It will also help with rhythm and smooth out the choppy areas.
C. WHAT EDITORS DON’T WANT—When writing a short story, stay away from these areas:
a. HEAD HOPPING—“Head Hopping” means jumping from one character’s head to another, or several changes in Point of View. Many short story editors despise “Head Hopping.” They find it confusing for the reader and the mark of an amateur.
b. PAST AND PRESENT TENSE ISSUES—If you choose a tense, stick with it for the entire story. Again, it’s confusing for the reader if you don’t.
c. A STORY WHICH NEEDS TOO MUCH EDITING—This is the main reason for this entire section. If you submit an unpolished story it could be rejected, no matter how good it is.
II. READ THE GUIDELINES—The guidelines editors and publishers set are the rules you must follow when submitting. Many writers have been rejected, their manuscripts unseen by editor’s eyes because they failed to follow these guidelines.
A. COMMON GUIDELINES—Guidelines consist of the following items, though many vary according to publisher. SHUNN format is the standard used by most.
a. COVER LETTER—Most publishers ask for a cover letter to go with your submission. Usually, this is the first page of your document. A good cover letter should be brief. It should introduce you, your story, word count, and any achievements. Sometimes, a publisher may ask for a brief bio as well. (Always write your bio in the third person.) When submitting by e-mail, I usually copy and paste my cover letter into the body of the e-mail.
b. DOCUMENT FORMAT—The publisher will specify whether the document should be in DOC, DOCX, RTF, etc.
c. FONT—The most requested fonts are Times New Roman and Courier. 12 pt. is preferred.
d. SPACING—Most publishers prefer double-spaced. (It’s easier to edit.)
e. HEADERS—SHUNN formatting recommends using headers and page numbers.
f. E-MAIL—The publisher may ask you to include information in your e-mail. You may be asked to provide a biography as well as links to your website and social media. Make sure you include all information and write the subject line the way the publisher requests. If you fail to do this, your e-mail may become lost, or it may find its way into the spam folder instead of the slush pile.
B. UNUSUAL GUIDELINES—Some publishers will request single spacing, different fonts, or a pint of blood, depending on how they present their publication. (Ok, I made that up about the blood. It’s spinal fluid.) Here are a few examples of unusual submission guidelines.
a. BLIND SUBMISSIONS—No, this is not the Bird Box challenge of the submission world. When you make a blind submission, you are scrubbing the story of all personal information related to yourself. You DO NOT include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, or affiliation with any writers association on the manuscript. It should contain only the body of the story, the title, and the word count. All other personal information should be included in the e-mail.
b. MAIL-IN SUBMISSIONS—Most publishers have moved on to Digital Submissions, but a select few have elected to stay with the mail-in submission. Here are some quick tips for mailing:
1.) Do not fold the manuscript when mailing.
2.) Place the manuscript in a folder before putting it in a 9×11 envelope.
c. WAYS OF SUBMITTING—Some publishers won’t accept e-mail submissions. Instead, they require the writer to submit to a submission website. These sites allow them to read and organize large volumes of submissions. You’ll need to create an account if you wish to use them.
1. SUBMITTABLE—Submitting through this site is easy. The publisher will provide you with a link to their submission and, if you have an account, you’ll simply go from there. All the guidelines are on the page. You even have a spot for a cover letter which can be used as a template. It will appear each time you use Submittable and you can adapt it to your needs. Submittable also tracks these submissions for you and, if you check in with the site, you’ll see whether your submission has been received, is in-progress, has been rejected, or accepted. The submission will also be archived under these categories. So, you can delight in your acceptances or sob over your rejections.
2. MOKSHA—Moksha (which means “freedom or emancipation from the cycle of reincarnation” in Hindu) is fairly easy to work with. You simply fill in the blanks with your info and are notified by e-mail whether you’ve been accepted or not. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction uses this site.
III. MARKET LISTS AND SUBMISSION TRACKERS
A. THE HORROR TREE—This is the best market site for horror writers. If you subscribe to their newsletter, you’ll receive new listings in your inbox every Friday.
B. SUBMISSION GRINDER—This market list site is also a submission tracker. You can search for horror markets and then log submissions to them. The site keeps track of how long the submission has been out and, if you are rejected, will search for similar markets to resubmit to.
C. LITERARIUM—Another market list and submission tracker site. You do much of the work inputting info here.
D. DUOTROPE—This site tracks and lists markets. It also requires payment. You can pay $5 a month or $50 a year.
IV. AUTHOR ADVICE
A. JG FAHERTY’S TIPS FOR SUBMITTING TO PUBLISHERS—JG Faherty is the author of Carnival of Fear and The Cemetery Club. He’s been gracious enough to provide us with a few words on the submission process.
1. Always make sure your manuscript is in tip-top shape, whether it’s a novel or short story. Proofread, and then do it twice more, and have another writer or professional editor look it over as well.
2. Make sure the story is a good match for the market. Don’t assume that every horror magazine is going to like every type of horror. Some specialize in weird fiction, some in traditional horror. Some don’t want vampires or ghosts; others don’t want excess bloodshed. Do your homework. This goes for book publishers, too.
3. Read the submission guidelines very carefully and follow them to the letter. If the publisher or editor wants stories formatted in a certain way, do it. If they say only send 3 chapters, don’t send more or less. If they want a synopsis, send it. The surest way to end up in the rejection bin is to not follow the guidelines.
4. Always include a cover letter, unless the market specifically says not to. That cover letter should contain all your contact information, the word count of the story or book, and a short paragraph detailing your professional credits. For a book submission, you can include a paragraph or two about the novel and what makes it unique. For short stories, never tell about the plot, just give the title and that’s it.
5. Some editors still prefer hard copies to be snail mailed. In those cases, make sure to use a 9×11 envelope, either padded or place your manuscript in a file folder so it doesn’t get wet or bent. Never fold the document into a small envelope.
6. Always be polite and professional. Don’t make weird jokes in the cover letter, or threaten the editor, or criticize their work. Don’t offer bribes, even as a joke. It is okay to say you’re a fan of their work, but certainly not necessary.
7. Sometimes we finish right before the submission deadline ends, but always do your best to get the story to the editor before then. Submission periods exist for a reason, and most markets strictly adhere to them. If you miss the deadline, you can try to request a 1-day extension, but don’t be upset if it’s not granted.
8. Never publicly criticize a market or editor, or write a scathing response, if you get rejected!
V. WORDS OF WISDOM—You’ve learned how to prepare your manuscript, follow guidelines, and where to submit and track your submissions. Just a few more words of wisdom.
A. DON’T GIVE UP—Whether you’re applying for a job or beginning a relationship, there is always the threat of rejection. Writing is no different and, if you don’t develop a thick skin (or borrow one from your favorite neighborhood cannibal) you won’t make it very far. If you’re rejected, look the story over and try again somewhere else. Remember: J.K. Rowling received many rejections before she found a home for Harry Potter. Can you imagine how those publishers feel now?
B. TAKE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM—If you receive feedback from an editor and they’ve taken the time to give you some constructive criticism, don’t freak out. Take it and apply it. It could vastly improve your work. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
Thank you for joining me today. Good luck and keep submitting!
Upscale housewife with history Elizabeth Taylor thinks she witnesses a murder in the creepy abandoned house next door in the 1973 British thriller Night Watch. Unfortunately, her broker husband John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) nor her carefree best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) believe her. The police are tired of the increasing phone calls and neighborhood hysteria, but the terror escalates thanks to stormy nights, pills, alcohol, and slit throats.
Director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and writers Evan Jones (The Damned) and Tony Williamson (The Avengers) adapt the Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number) play with flowers, quaint English gardens, and smiling rapport. The swanky drinks before dinner and lingering sixties style, however, contrast the looming gothic manor next door. The grounds are said to be poison where nothing will grow, but someone is digging in the backyard on stormy nights, and vivid dreams of speeding cars, accidents, and morgue terror distract from the snobbish talk of avoiding lesser neighbors. Late night waxing on the fatal past invokes a wee small hours limbo – traumatic memories and two characters who’ve lost touch make for fine drama before raging storms and screams reveal something horrible across the way. Dead men and cutthroats disturb the classical music, but inspectors find nothing in the congested, maze-like condemned as Night Watch relies on performances and mood rather than sensationalism for its taut, through the shutters peering. Pills or brandy are suggested to keep calm, but flashlights, clutter, and foreground objects layer the visual frame. Viewers are looking for something – questioning what we see or didn’t see. Could it all be an honest mistake? The police think it’s nothing but “money and menopause” on top of brief nudity, shower saucy, and hotel room trysts. Newly planted trees aren’t enough evidence, but nuggets of information trickle out from the ensemble. Suspicious neighbors find it exciting that there’s hear tell of a dead body nearby yet refuse to have their bushes dug up as part of the official search. Red herrings add to the creepy commentary about disliking neighbors who were there before you just as much as the friends you choose living even closer. Who’s watching whom and from which house questions layer the voyeurism alongside debates on hallucinations, eidetic images, and convincing oneself that what you see is real. Old mementos thought lost suddenly reappear, leading to arguments about gaslighting and being deliberately terrorized as more police calls, chases, and curiosity create a ‘burbs mind your own business across the hedge. Despite lights next door, the case is closed – inspectors and doctors both strongly suggest everything go back to normal amid awkward dinners, screams, and more off-screen witnessing. Revelations about what had really happened in previous accidents and shock over-identifying bodies found in flagrante delicto provoke more tension in the increasingly crowded quarter. Eventually, the police laugh and roll their eyes, proposing our housewife contact the building owners herself or hire a private detective. All the paperwork is ready for a trip to “rest” in Switzerland, too – accounts, legalese, and power of attorney but that’s all just routine. Confrontations, secrets, and lies will out thanks to hide and seek twists inside the derelict. Night Watch gets its horror on in a spooky multi-layered finale of blood, violence, crazed attacks, and frenetic turnabouts. Who exactly was really planning what and when? Seemingly early and obvious giveaways make room for more surprises, and Night Watch ensures the shocking schemes are ultimately completed with skill and gravitas.
Flowing gowns, glam necklaces, rock rings, and coiffed hair assure Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) looks classy as well to do housewife Ellen Wheeler. She dresses for dinner, drinks, and does jigsaw puzzles, for she needs patience to give her something to do when she’s so often alone. Her ritzy life should be nothing but grand, however, the insomniac Mrs. is up all night fascinated by storms and thinking about her father’s bad poetry. She’s been spoiled yet feels restrained and bored. The watch during the night is for all the things you can’t make sense of during the day, says Ellen, and she’s increasingly returning to memories of her late first husband Carl. Dreaming of his accident keeps her awake – she vividly recalls the fatal scenes and blood the viewer never sees but doesn’t remember previously dealing with the police and feels nervous about talking to them. However, Ellen also doesn’t want to be coddled or hear this witness is all in her mind, and she’s angry when no one believes her, even more hysterical over the disbelief than upset by the crime she apparently saw. Without support, Ellen is increasingly frazzled, pathetic, and paranoid. Will she voluntarily go to the doctor so he can tell her the dead body is all in her mind? What happens when she thinks she sees another one? Mrs. Wheeler’s wheels turn as she suspects her pills, beverages, and if someone is deliberately making her recall Carl’s demise. Despite her full house with husband, friend, and maid, Ellen fears someone else is watching her. She repeatedly calls the police and eventually agrees to see the psychiatrist, and though desperate, she is not stupid. Ellen is quite intelligent and recognizes when she’s being lied to or signing the wrong papers. She’s damn shrewd in seeing what’s what, and Night Watch’s madness begins to make sense as only Dame Elizabeth could make the clicking of the retractable pen so sassy and defiant before refusing to take the last tranquilizer in the bottle. Long drags on the cigarettes and strategic pauses emphasis the deliciously dark camp, and I’m surprised Night Watch feels so obscure when Taylor’s performance is so chill.
Laurence Harvey’s (The Manchurian Candidate) stocks and bonds big wig John Wheeler wants to know why his wife can’t sleep. He works long hours, but wonders what he’s done to upset her even if she says it’s not him. John takes care of Ellen, babying her with warm milk the way a daughter goes from father to husband to protect her. However, John does not believe she’s seen anything. He won’t call the police over a false alarm and insists the inspector not upset his already not well wife. John won’t stick up for her claims, yet he warns the police to not dismiss Ellen. Although he’s worried over the dangerous mix of alcohol and sleeping pills, John’s more concerned about possibly being sued by an angry neighbor. He dislikes when the police want him to control his wife and encourages her to see their doctor friend once he’s tired of her bringing up her late husband. John agrees she is right when Ellen suggests they take a holiday – but she says we and he only wants her to take a vacation. He has all that “spa” paperwork ready! Swanky best friend Billie Whitelaw (The Omen) on the other hand, is the houseguest who won’t leave. She keeps saying she’s moving on to Scotland and debates running away with her latest on and off conquest Barry but may have other tête-à-têtes, too. Sarah stays to look after Ellen, providing tranquilizers and hot chocolate while waxing on all the adventures she could be having and the excuses she can make up to get away with them. Although she tries to avoid topics that will upset Ellen – like Carl – they always creep back into the conversation. Sarah insists Ellen can’t go on like this, but as the third wheel in the marital house, her companionship is automatically suspect. She lies to spare Ellen but also apologizes for her tall tales. Doctor Tony Britton (The People That Time Forgot) must also tread lightly with Mrs. Wheeler. He doesn’t want her to be committed but needs her to voluntarily trust his help. Above all, he insists that she must get out of this house before it’s too late.
Spooky black branches, dark blue skies, boarded windows, banging shutters, and overgrown vines contrast the mirrors, red leather couch, white staircase, and swanky record players next door in Night Watch. Creepy statues and artwork, blue lighting, ticking clocks, and swirling cigarette smoke add ominous to the hip turtlenecks, lux lamps, decanters, and manicured gardens. Knives in the kitchen, rain splatter on the windows, and vintage blue sirens create pulsing tension while gates, flashlights, and condemned interiors set off the congested mood. Horseshoe phones, switchboard operators, and retro trench coats should be cozy nostalgia, but the colorful outdoors disappear as the peering through the blinds and drawn shades invoke agoraphobia. Distorted dreams and intense flashes of past car accidents lead to dead bodies and hospital Disturbia thanks to low camera angles and spotlights. Night Watch has subtle, choice visuals with reflections of the scary house on the fine townhouse window overlaying all action inside and out. Well done cinematography provides dark scares as well as focuses on Taylor’s face as zooms hone in on critical images and objects. Thunder punctuates arguments as the rhythms escalate, and through the gate, chases move the action to our spooky neighbors amid barren beams, peeling plaster, creaking stairs, and exposed woodwork. Violent struggles in the dark and shocking silhouettes allow for what we don’t see suspicion and final revelations. Wise viewers may pick up on the mystery here for there are too many similar stories to Night Watch before and since. Audiences looking for full-on horror a la Hammer of the day will be disappointed, too. Fortunately, the psychological chills, spooky twists, and superbly unraveled cast do get their scary on in an entertaining end. Night Watch is a fun late night tease worth seeing more than once to catch all the whodunit winks.
What’s more wonderful than a gothic woman in fancy clothes and delicious settings experiencing crimes and ghosts with a dash of scandal, saucy, and the supernatural?
Angelica – A Victorian couple spirals into paranormal horrors thanks to puritanical repression in this brooding 2017 tale starring Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), and Ed Stoppard (The Frankenstein Chronicles). Ghostly photography, flashbulbs, and empty chairs contrast the bustles, parasols, and formalities before lanterns, carriages, fine townhouses, and storms. Bedridden confessions lead to earlier courtings with circus sideshows and talk of Darwinism versus the stiff upper lip British tapering their animal appetites. The microscope revealing disease causing organisms is almost as fantastic as the camera capturing spirits, and while it’s okay for a young lady to work in a stationery store selling nibs and ink, she can’t see her future husband’s laboratory. Our humble orphan now in elaborate red dresses is called a counter jumper by the aristocratic ladies, and she’s fearful of the bridal bed before enjoying it in a scandalously active montage. Bells toll amid talk of losing a mother nor wanting to be one, and this birth is graphic, not maternal bliss thanks to scalpels, screams, and both lives at stake. Unfortunately, the doctor says another pregnancy is not worth the risk, and the couple should “desist entirely” and close her garden. Our husband doesn’t want to seek pleasure elsewhere, but she can’t get into other..options…and favors their toddler over him. Soon, she’s completely revolted by her husband and obsessively attached to the child, and the wife is made to feel guilty about her health and desires by everyone in tense Victorian melodrama. Men in suits have no trouble warping her mind, but they are shocked to see a woman enter the medical theater amid animals in cages, exposed brains, and disturbing experiments that put the creepy back into the complex characterizations. Strange noises, visions of germs in the air, bugs in the woodwork, and wardrobes that open by themselves lead to more anger as the husband dislikes the chaos his overprotective wife is causing in their home. She won’t let these apparitions prey on her daughter – who also sees this floating ectoplasm man in her room. Is she putting more notions in the imaginative child’s head? Is this mental illness or is the repressed sexual energy seeping into the house itself? The maid calls in a scam artist spiritualist to ring bells, burn sage, and banish the banshees. Rather than a charlatan taking advantage, however, there’s a woman to woman understanding and courage – a protection spell is more like peace of mind somewhere between being a modest mother and the shame of enjoying sex. There are also unspoken lesbian veils, entertaining women while your husband’s away, putting their feet on the table, showing their legs, and drinking his best port. Drunken undressings provide laughter instead of rattling doors, swarming entities, prayers, and fires against evil. If he is not at home, who is festering this supernatural activity? The drama before the horrors may be slow to viewers expecting in your face scares a minute, but the intriguing characters are intertwined with the fear. Our mother needs to destroy the snake manifestations and demon man coming for her daughter before her husband sends her to Bedlam, and the once beautiful interiors become stifling as ghostly sexual encounters escalate to mind and bodies becoming one with blood and penetrations of a different kind. Although the bookends are unnecessary and this seems caught between two audiences – too much drama for horror fans and intrusive paranormal activity for period piece viewers – such Victorian horror drama with a touch of LGBT is perfect for fans of gothic mood and psycho-sexual dreadfuls.
Lizzie– Maid Kristen Stewart (Twilight) gets steamy with the titular turn of the century murderess Chloe Sevingy (American Horror Story) in this 2018 biopic accented with fine costumes, rustic lighting, and vintage Victorian interiors. Six months before the screams and blood, the buttoned-up, repressed daughter is already defiant against the patriarchal oppression by going to theatre parties unaccompanied where low cut, colorful frocks contrast the tight collars and immediate sexual tension at home. The Bordens can’t have anything too extravagant despite being able to afford it, and Lizzie prefers the barn and animals to people, reading aloud in an innocent but antisocial loneliness. While some dialogue is a little too modern, our eponymous lady has a progressive, forceful, even masculine energy that can’t be contained with fainting spells. Our old maid is called a lesbian abomination but in turn rightfully calls her perverse, abusive father a lying coward before creaking floorboards, broken mirrors slid under the door, revenge injuries, and burned documents reveal the truth. The up-close camera often peers through the window, catching the glances as each lady looks at each other – the audience is in on the intimate possibilities but when your employer suggests his servant leave the door to her hot attic room open, she can’t exactly say no. The strict orders and behind closed doors implications are uncomfortable enough without the often seen exploitative, degrading visuals, and the women bond during intimate undressings and corset tightenings. Theft and rebellious acts increase amid suspicious business deals, threatening letters, and whispering relatives. The women have to eavesdrop to learn what the men are planning for them before violent punishments and one and all sitting at the dinner table like nothing has happened. Is murder the only way out of the hypocrisy? Were the violent tendencies always there or could you be crazy in love enough to kill? The ax is shown throughout the potboiler, and although the stifling camerawork may be disorienting to some viewers, it mirrors the closeness when it is both welcomed by the women or invaded by nasty men. Regardless of height, the unprotected ladies must look up to the creepy uncles, diminished and fearful of physical violence. Retro photo pops accent the bludgeoning editing before jail and witnesses on the stand provide the fallout from this infamous hatcheting. Premeditated accomplices, church bells, deliberate nudity, and out of control horror are worth the wait once the finale reveals the symbolically sexual posturing, vomit, and splatter. Some people just don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing while others so smooth have thought of everything. There is some unevenness with the characters – probably from when the project was envisioned as a television piece with bigger roles – and the killer romance meets Victorian women’s lib messages are mixed. However despite liberties suggesting what went on in this congested house and a decidedly quiet, not mainstream style that won’t be for everyone, this interesting perspective will have viewers studying this disturbing murder case with a sympathetic, personal anew.
Rebecca – Artistic ingenue Emilia Fox (Merlin) – companion to wealthy gossip Faye Dunaway (Don Juan DeMarco) – is smitten by the suave yet mysterious Charles Dance (Bleak House) in this 1997 three hour Masterpiece adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Sublime style, flapper headbands, candlelight, and long stem cigarettes add to the whirlwind 1927 Riviera’s scenic drives, classic convertibles, and charming hats. Unlike the immediately gothic grayscale of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 version, vivid color and visual depth layer this initially idyllic romance. Our unusual couple have each been shy, lonely, and sad, but Maxim de Winter admires this young lady’s innocence and honesty compared to the gilded aristocracy. Picnics, boat rides, a silly girl, a foolish old man – can they make a go of their differences? The dangerous curves and perilous drives suggest something slightly sinister brewing amid glimpses of the unforgettable and beloved by all Rebecca. It’s been a year since her death, yet everyone must remind Maxim of his late wife upon this surprising second marriage. The newlyweds return to the lovely English gardens and proper decorum at Manderley, the estate where the Emmy winning Diana Rigg’s (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers won’t let go of the first Mrs. DeWinter’s memory. The household reception is awkward and chilly – the coastal brightness turns darker thanks to shadow schemes, lighting changes, and the looming silhouettes of both Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. Despite being a large estate with a west wing facing the sea, the hefty staircases, huge windows, and great fireplace feel congested, closing in on the new, nervous Mrs. as she gets lost wandering the shuttered parts of the house, breaks priceless statues, and hangs her head like an admonished little girl. She doesn’t fit into the upper-class routine, but the brooding, often misunderstood Maxim doesn’t want her to become like those other cruel, aristocratic dames. Everyone is so heavy handed, formal, and not just unhelpful but resentful of how unlike Rebecca she is, and the couple regrets returning home to the rocky cliffs, beachside cottages, and distrustful staff. Crazy hermits, past gossip, vogue cousins too close for comfort, recreating previous fancy dress balls, and one big costuming faux pas strain the relationship further, but she can’t exactly ask her new husband about why the pieces on how Rebecca drowned aren’t coming together. Her room is still kept as is, almost in worship where our devoted housekeeper can express her creepy vicarious and pathetic intimacy, re-enacting brushing her madam’s hair and laying out her perfumed nightgown. Was Rebecca really so perfect? If she wasn’t would anybody actually say so? Her presence is overwhelming – not because of any actually supernatural mood or ghost, but because the obsessed Mrs. Danvers won’t let anyone forget, placing the fanatical pressures of her devotion on the second Mrs. de Winter. Foreboding strings add more ominous, however, the suspense is certainly helped by Maxim’s not coming clean on his life with Rebecca at the start. While some scenes are very similar to Hitchcock’s vision, this is also closer to the novel, and even if you’ve seen other adaptations, viewers are swept up in wondering how the secrets will play out in the finale. Fog, vintage boats, watery evidence, mistaken identities, inquests – the circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s life and death come to light, but our servant oversteps her bounds with cruelty, jealousy, and bullying suicidal whispers just to assure Rebecca everyone thought they knew and loved won’t die. Though more romantic than true crime, the fresh love, and warped liaisons are told swift and honestly as the scandalous true colors are revealed with fainting spells, medical discoveries, fiery rescues, and kisses in the rain. Indeed all the gothic staples are here with period mood and performances to match.
The Turn of the Screw – Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery joins Dan Stevens (again) and Nicola Walker (MI-5) in this ninety-minute 2009 BBC adaptation of the Henry James askew moving the repressed ambiguity to 1921 institutions with post-war doctors analyzing our governess’ infatuation with her employer, the topsy turvy male shortage, and of kilter Bly Manor. Fashions, hats, sweet automobiles, fine woodwork, and hefty antiques sell the refreshing setting, however, the nonsensical strobe flashes look amateur on top of the time-wasting, disjointed doctoring add-ons, and unnecessary narration. Visions of dalliances that initially upgrade the Victorian scandalous soon hit the viewer over the head one too many times as the governess imagines her master and his saucy approval. She insists she’s not the nervous type, but the dark interiors, maze-like staircases, and distorted camera angles add to the strange noises and creepy country manor unease. She’s in charge, above housekeepers and maids, but there are too many flighty women doing all the work in this house. Parasols and summer white contrast eerie fog and trains as her boy charge is expelled from school without explanation. The cheeky children whisper about their previous, pretty governess – unbothered by screams, accidents, or dying maids. Melancholy piano music, graveyard echoes, dark figures amid the trees, and faces in the window build on the female isolation, yet all insist there are no ghosts – surely she’s just hysterical, overwrought, and obsessed with men. Rumors of suicide and a woman ruined by her lover seem proved by hidden pictures of the master’s up to no good valet, and tales of his violence among the unprotected women are better than seeing suspect flashbacks. The prim style degrades to loose hair and nightgowns as our governess jumps to dire conclusions and possessive delirium, but the shouting about it afterward with her doctor interruptions break the tainted picnics and frantic tension. We don’t need his sounding board to deduce her fears, just let us see the abusive violence and water perils. Crazy laughter and disembodied voices escalate as the phantoms, repression, and projection possibilities culminate in a one on one battle for the truth. The deviations here are flawed, and while the horror lite is fine for gothic period piece fans, some viewers will expect more than to have it both ways attempt at the ghosts and crazy ambiguity. This isn’t the best version but thanks to the cast and unique setting, it can be a good introduction for audiences who haven’t seen The Innocents.
Mary Shelley is best known as the author of Frankenstein, a keystone work of the horror genre. Shelley’s legacy is a confused one, since her major work has been muddled by the reinterpretations of the monster in movies and television. However, her original novel remains popular in its own right and is still being critiqued and admired to this day.
But we aren’t here to talk about Frankenstein. We are here to talk about Mary Shelley.
Filled with passion, scandal, and devastating personal tragedy, Mary Shelley’s life reads like a gothic romance in its own right.
Mary Shelley was the daughter of prominent feminist and philosophical thinkers. Her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died soon after Mary’s birth, leaving her husband to raise Mary. He exposed Mary early on to radical political ideologies, setting Mary up for a lifetime of activism.
When she was 16, Mary met Percy Shelley, a married man of 21 with whom she began a romance. They met clandestinely in the same cemetery where her mother was buried and it is commonly said that she lost her virginity on her mother’s grave.
Despite her father’s disapproval, Mary left with Percy (along with her step sister, who was likely also one of Percy’s lovers) for France. When they finally returned, Mary was pregnant with his child. Unfortunately, their daughter was born prematurely and died soon after.
Mary and Percy continued their affair and were finally married a few years later after Percy’s wife committed suicide. Neither was particularly committed to the institution of marriage but married in a bid to show stability so Percy could have custody of his children (he was eventually deemed morally unfit).
The Shelleys believed in free love—something Percy seemed far more enthusiastic about practicing than Mary—and maintained an open marriage. The Shelleys were determined to live the free-spirited lives of artists, regardless of if they had the means. Percy found himself frequently hiding from creditors and the Shelley’s left the country multiple times to avoid debtors’ prison. Yet, with the uncanny ability of the generationally wealthy, they managed to avoid both destitution and respectable careers. Instead, they spent their married life traveling to the various rented villas of friends such as Lord Byron.
It was during one of these holidays that Mary conceived the idea for Frankenstein. Lord Byron proposed that each member of the party write a ghost story. After a few days of struggle, Mary was inspired by galvanism and the prospect of reanimating the dead to write Frankenstein. The manuscript was finished a few years later and published anonymously.
During this time, Mary’s tumultuous personal life continued. She had two more children, both of whom died in their early years. Her husband was caught in the middle of a scandal regarding the adoption of a girl who may have been his illegitimate child with Mary’s step-sister. Mary plunged into a deep depression, during which it seems writing was her only solace. She did eventually have another son, the only one of her children to survive to adulthood.
In 1822, Percy Shelley went sailing with friends. He never returned. His body washed up on a beach three days later. Mary Shelley was left a widow at 24. She had been with Percy for only 8 years. Still, she was devastated at the loss of her husband and mourned him the rest of her life.
She returned to England with her son and dedicated the rest of her days to her writing and the editing of her husband’s poems. She contributed her time and money to helping women, often those who were shunned by society. Mary never remarried despite her popularity with men and many offers. She claimed that she had already married a genius and could only marry another.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley died in 1851 at the age of 53. A woman who had lived her life by defying expectations had one more surprise for her family: in her desk drawer, her son found the calcified heart of Percy Shelley, which Mary had kept since his death.
Mary Shelley’s legacy lives on through the many interpretations of her work as well as the mystique of her personal history. A woman far ahead of her time, she lived true to herself in a way only she could.
At 4:04 am on Dec 14th 2020, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach, and with dog in lap she picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched:
Plotline: A man providing overnight watch to a deceased member of his former Orthodox Jewish community finds himself opposite a malevolent entity
Who would like it: Fans of demonic possessions, religious horror, cultural horror, international films, paranormal activity fans with like this as well.
High Points: This is very cultural specific. This is a story line that you won’t see anywhere else.
Content Warnings: Drug Use, Sex, Violence, Death, Suicide, Slavery, Assisted Suicide, Homophobia, Sex Work
With Unsafe Words, Loren Rhoads presents probably the most diverse set of stories that I’ve yet reviewed. Unsafe Words is not a collection of strictly horror, but explores fantasy and science fiction as well. Throughout, however, runs a thread of unease. Rhoads explores the darker sides of all her subjects. Regardless of whether the tales are set in a world of advanced technology, magic, aliens, or bad drug trips, Unsafe Words doesn’t flinch away from her examination of the human condition.
Drugs, sex, and music feature prominently throughout the stories. Frequently, they weave together. Drugs tint character reliability, blurring the line between reality and hallucination. Characters use drugs to escape their situation, to enhance it, and simply to exist. Rhoads attaches no value judgement to the use, but uses it to enrich the stories. Sex, in all its trappings, is a strong taboo for most readers. But Rhoads doesn’t shy from its use. Sex is good, it’s bad, it’s a fact of life for her characters. It’s a means to an end or an end all its own. Music is a driving force, akin to hypnotism, drugs, or religion. Music washes over the characters like a drug high. It transcends their motivations. Characters are willing to die for music, kill for it.
Drugs, sex, and music may be the vehicle, but many of Rhoads’s stories primarily deal with the concept of love—new, mature, and dying. When does infatuation cross from curiosity to devotion? What would you do for someone that you love? Who or what would you betray? What do you do when grief runs out and turns instead to exhaustion and despair?
These stories are uncomfortable at times, but they’re meant to be that way. They force the reader to explore their own values and assumptions about the human condition. Even within the horror narratives, terror takes a backseat to introspection.
Rhoads revisits tired tropes through a new lens. New worlds and ideas turn familiar stories on their heads. She seamlessly includes science fiction and fantasy world building to freshen up stories. These worlds don’t take over the story, but serve as a unique backdrop.
If I have one complaint about Unsafe Words, it is simply that some of the stories are too short. Rhoads creates complex, immersive worlds that are busting with stories, but only explores a tiny portion of them, sometimes cutting off the story before it really even gets started. So many of these could be expanded into full novels and I hope that Rhoads takes that step in the future.
If you have a wide range of stories with excellent writing, you’ll enjoy Unsafe Words by Loren Rhoads.
Brian Craddock is widely published in horror anthologies, establishing a lead in character Richard Dalziel to navigate the majority of his short fiction. Collected, these stories are The Dalziel Files, set around the globe. Of these, “Ismail’s Expulsion”, set in Pakistan, won the Long Fiction Award at the 2018 Australian Shadows Awards. Brian has two novels available: Chuwa: The Rat People of Lahore (set in Pakistan) and Eucalyptus Goth (set in Australia).
This horror/sci-fi short-story is set in Indonesia, in the future. I was inspired after meeting a group of children in Jakarta who use their local cemetery as a playground, due to lack of public parks to play in. They would put “makeup” on the angel statues, using chalk and crayons.
At the end of the silent movie period, French film director René Clair went on the record as being very skeptical of sound, feeling that it was “an unnatural creation” Cinema as its own art form was a purely visual one, he thought, and the introduction of sound would make films nothing more than recorded stage plays. He relented, and made some truly great sound films, but watching what is, as far as I’ve been able to determine the earliest surviving Japanese horror film, Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeji (A Page of Madness), one might wonder if he wasn’t on to something.
Not that Kinugasa was aware of Clair’s opinion in 1926, or even of his work; there’s no indication that he saw any western films at the beginning of his career. He started in the industry as a female impersonator in 1917, then switched to directing once Japanese studios began using female actors in the early 1920s. It wasn’t until 1929 that he had the opportunity to travel abroad and encounter European films, which makes Kurutta Ippeji all the more remarkable. Stylistically, it would fit very nicely into any one of several European traditions, particularly German expressionism. There is in Kinugasa’s picture more than a trace of what the French called Caligarisme, that most extreme variety of expressionism exemplified by The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to be sure. However, it’s purely a parallel development, as Kinugasa wouldn’t have known Caligarisme in 1926 if he tripped over it. He was talented enough to discover it on his own.
A more impressive achievement is that it truly is a silent film, even more so than any that Clair had directed in France up until that time. There are no intertitles, those cards that pop up periodically in almost all silents with bits of dialogue or expository material. Kinugasa was able to tell a coherent story with no dialogue, no expository material. The images are the story, and they need nothing else.
The story is, to be sure, a simple one. A man hires on as a janitor at the insane asylum where his wife is an inpatient. He loses contact with reality himself while attempting to extricate her from the asylum against her will, plus deal with his daughter’s disintegrating marriage. His own mental state comes to mirror that of several of the other inmates, and it is in the presentation of their madness and his that Kinugasa creates some truly horrific imagery. It possesses a poetic subtlety that possibly doesn’t translate well into our time for most modern horror fans, which is a damn shame.
Like almost all early Japanese films, it was thought lost until Kinugasa came across a copy in his garden shed in the 1970s, a few years after his long and very productive career had come to an end. He died in 1982, at the age of eighty-six.
Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday was yesterday as I write this, an anniversary that should be near and dear to the hearts of all horror fans. Poe is also revered by the mystery buffs, who named their most prestigious award the Edgar in his honor. And in his honor, the second part of this celebration of Asian horrors is herewith presented unto the populace.
Japanese mystery writer Tirō Hirai adopted the pseudonym Edogawa Ranpo (sometimes written as Rampo) in 1923. If you say that new name fast, it sort of sounds like Poe’s full name, which was the point, I do believe. Regardless, he had a long and distinguished career as a mystery author, penning numerous novels and short stories.
Which has what to do with horror, Asian or otherwise? you may well ask. Well, like many writers, Ranpo had difficulty playing in his own sandbox. On occasion, he would tinker with other genres. One such time, he came up with what might well be the creepiest tale I’ve ever read.
A prominent lady writer receives a manuscript from an aspiring author. In it, he tells of his life as a hideously ugly and poverty-stricken chair-maker, a man whose carpentry skills are as great as his social skills are poor. Having received a commission for a large chair to be installed in a fancy hotel, he decides to build one that he can hide in so that he can sneak out and steal from the wealthy clientele. He spends months living in this chair, emerging from it at night to pilfer valuables. He waxes rhapsodic on how various people sit on him during the day, how he could differentiate one type of person from another by how their bodies press down onto his.
After a long time, the carpenter writes, the hotel decided to redecorate, and the chair was sold. And guess what! You’re sitting on me now! The lady author freaks and flees, only to receive a second letter telling her that the manuscript is pure fiction, ha-ha, just kidding. Did you like it and would you help me get it published? It shall be called, “The Human Chair”. This seems like a cheat on a par with The Wizard of Oz having all been a dream. If the second letter is true.
See? Creepy, right?
Ranpo published his story, also called “The Human Chair”, in 1925, in the October issue of the literary magazine, Kuraku. I first read it in David Alexander’s 1962 paperback anthology, Tales for a Rainy Night.
It can also be found in Peter Haining’s 1972 anthology Beyond the Curtain of Dark and in Ranpo’s own collection, Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination. And no doubt in others. I encourage all and sundry among the populace to seek it out, in order to see for yourself if it delivers the same frisson to you it did to me the first time I read it.
Not merely stories, but an assemblage of shared experiences
And teamwork presented by Omnium Gatherum
Alma Katsu leads the proceedings
Of what follows and what to expect
Asian, women, and horror
Tales of identity, expectation and neglect;
Obligations, traditions, duties and more
Scientists, warriors, princesses, spirits
We can be many things
But we cannot be defeated
A haunting foreword sets the tone
For Elaine Cuyegkeng to kick off with a bang
Pandora’s box of gene editing
Or more attuned to a boomerang;
Snipping out traits and replacing preferential ones
Rarefied offspring too good to be true?
There’s always a price to pay
Specimens or daughters? Are we a ‘what’ or ‘who’?
Nadia Bulkin marshals an uprising
With Indonesian history and folklore
A princess’s people retrieving her throne
A fight and reclamation at its core;
Who is monster and who is human?
Questions Kapre in his chronicle
Rin Chupeco’s unique love story
Depicts a tale heartwarming and ironical
Beauty, cosmetics, enhancements galore
Two tales from Angela Yuriko Smith
How far would you go to be yourself no more?
Sci-fi abounds; this isn’t myth
White on the outside, yellow within
Patchwork eyes and warring factions all over
Whom do we belong to if we don’t belong at all?
Gift recipient or pushover?
Grace Chan makes a two-fold mark
With hunger and fury, suspicion and doubt
Gabriella Lee’s rites of passage
Aspects of womanhood poured out;
The legend of the nine-tailed fox
Of trickster entities and lotus feet
Rena Mason presents womanhood again
As past, present and future accrete
Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn
In their dual roles of editor and writer
Lend duality with contrasting themes
From heartbreak to horror, and lighter;
Caring for an ailing parent,
A mind-blowing take on pets,
A litmus test of acceptance,
Words – their shining assets
Set the clock ahead with Christina Sng
As we time travel to a zombie apocalypse
An ode to women in the military
Fury is not one to be eclipsed;
The fury of sacrifices to accommodate
Meeting the expectations of others
Hollowed versions of ourselves
Emptied out; unconsidered druthers
With stories of folklore and legend
From the common to the esoteric
Across geography and culture
From charming to barbaric;
Returning to one’s roots
Or imagining a far-fetched world
From the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore
China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand;
Asian women from wherever they might be
Scattered across place and time
Breaking notions and stereotypes
That living is not a crime;
There’s no single type of woman
No all-encompassing concept of Asian
The multifaceted identities of horror
And the stories of women who experience their own versions.
Ranata Pavrey is a Nutritionist by profession; marathon runner and Odissi dancer by passion. Driven by sports, music, animals, plants, literature and more. She reads across several genres and languages, and loves the world of horror – in both, books and movies.
At 1:15 am pst on Dec. 13th 2020, Crystal Connor, finally settled into her sleeping bag on the couch with snacks within reach and dog in lap picked up her remote. The footage you are about to see chronicles the harrowing experience that her neighbors endured for hours as she screamed, cried, and shouted expletive obscenities at her television as she watched: Viewer discretion is advised.
Plotline: A collection of 24 films that take a look at the dark side of the festive season. 24 international directors with the most diverse ideas and styles; linked by short animated segments that deal with the Advent calendar itself.
Who would like it: Fans of anthologies, short films, collections, international films, horror lovers, gorehounds, tech geeks, sci-fi fans, indie horror movies, and people who love jump scares
High Points: This was a super strong anthology, loved about 80% of the films
As is de rigueur for this time of year, we look back at some of the genre connected people who passed away in 2020. Some connections are tenuous, some very solid. A few names, everyone knows. Many, I didn’t even know until I set out on this journey.
By the way, there be spoilers here. Act accordingly.
Veronika Fitz (3/28/36-1/2/20) German actress with a nearly six-decade career. Her only genre performance that I could find was a bit part in The Haunted Castle (1960). Oh, well. We had to start somewhere.
Robert Blanche (March 30, 1962 – January 3, 2020) American actor, played Sgt. Franco on the American television program, ‘Grimm’, from 2012 to 2017.
Edd Byrnes (July 30, 1932 – January 8, 2020) American actor, best known to the generation just prior to mine for his role as Kookie in the television mystery show, ’77 Sunset Strip’. Played a psycho killer in 1973’s Wicked, Wicked, a film notable only for its use of a split-screen for its entire running time. Brian de Palma had used the technique of showing two scenes at once in parts of his film, Sisters, that same year. Too much of a good thing, in this case.
Buck Henry (December 9, 1930 – January 8, 2020) American actor, writer, director. Creator of the classic ‘60s TV spy spoof ‘Get Smart’, frequent first season contributor to ‘Saturday Night Live’, and doomed swinger in the 1982 dark comedy, Eating Raoul.
Ivan Passer (10 July 1933 – 9 January 2020) Czech director of 1988’s Haunted Summer, one of several films about the 1815 gathering in Switzerland that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s Vampyre.
Mike Resnick (March 5, 1942 – January 9, 2020) Award-winning American science fiction writer and editor. Author of The Official Guide to Fantastic Literature (1976).
Carol Serling (February 3, 1929 – January 9, 2020) The widow of Rod Serling, who guided the Twilight Zone brand through decades of reinvention and adaptation into other media, including the magazine of the same name.
Neda Arnerić (15 July 1953 – 10 January 2020) Serbian actress, Venom (a.k.a. The Legend of Spider Forest, 1971)
Patrick Jordan (10 October 1923 – 10 January 2020) English actor who spent most of a long career as a character actor on the BBC, but did manage to squeeze in a bit part in the 1959 kaiju classic, The Giant Behemoth.
Robert Sampson (May 10. 1933 – January 18, 2020) American actor who appeared in the TV shows ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’, and as Dean Halsey in 1985’s Re-Animator.
Terry Jones (1 February 1942 – 21 January 2020) Welsh actor and writer and founding member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Played Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a performance that required him to run away from several scary things. That rabbit’s dynamite!
John Karlen (May 28, 1933 – January 22, 2020) American actor. Ah, yes. Willie Loomis himself, who foolishly awoke vampire Barnabas Collins on the classic horror soap opera, ‘Dark Shadows’. In the second half of the 1960s, everyone I knew ran home from school to plop down in front of the television in order to find out what devilment Barnabas was up too, all because Willie had been tempted by the rumors that the undead main character had treasure buried in his coffin with him. He ought to have known better. Nobody puts chains around a coffin to keep people out. The chains are obviously there to keep the occupant in. Duh.
Robert Harper (May 19, 1951 – January 23, 2020) American actor devoured by the inhabitant of ‘The Crate’ in 1982’s Creepshow.
Monique van Vooren (March 25, 1927 – January 25, 2020) Belgian actress who essayed multiple roles in Andy Warhol’s 1973 film, Flesh for Frankenstein.
Jack Burns (November 15, 1933 – January 27, 2020) American actor and comedian, best known for his partnership with Avery Schreiber in the comedy team of, you guessed it, Burns & Schreiber, and for being Barney Fife’s replacement on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’. Did make one appearance on the late ‘60s supernatural TV show, ‘The Ghost & Mrs. Muir’.
Norbert Moutier (1941 – 27 January 2020) French director of 1983’s Mad Mutilator and 1993’s Dinosaur from the Deep.
Marj Dusay (2/20/36-1/28/20) American actress who had a lead role in the 1969 TV movie, Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon, a pilot for a supernatural investigations series that was not picked up by the network. She appeared in virtually every television series made in the United States during her very long career, including in one episode of the short-lived Tucker’s Witch in 1982, also a supernatural investigations show.
Nicholas Parsons (10 October 1923 – 28 January 2020) English actor. Okay, blame the Beatles for this, or maybe Elvis, but it seemed that every rock & roll band in the ‘60s made an effort to break into movies. The Spencer Davis Group tried their hand in 1966 in a fab little feature called The Ghost Goes Gear. Gear being a synonym of the time for fab, or george, or groovy. As opposed to grotty. Clear as mud? Parsons played the band’s manager, a nobleman whose manor house was haunted. I recommend sticking with A Hard Day’s Night.
Dyanne Thorne (October 14, 1936 – January 28, 2020) American actress, ‘star’ of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. (1975). Naughty, naughty Ilsa, performing all those awful experiments on her barely clothed female prisoners in her own personal Nazi concentration camp. Camp being the operative word.
Mary HigginsClark (December 24, 1927 – January 31, 2020) American author of numerous suspense novels than danced around the edges of being horror.
Andrée Melly (15 September 1932 – 31 January 2020) English actress in The Brides of Dracula in 1960 and the cheapjack retread of William Castle’s 1963 remake of The Old Dark House called The Horror of it All in 1964. Her image from Brides was also picked for the Old Maid in a 1964 monster card game in which she is misidentified as Dracula’s Daughter.
One of several things that Milton Bradley got wrong. Sounds like meat for a future column.
Katsumasa Uchida (19 September 1944 – 31 January 2020) Japanese actor, played an Interpol agent in 1975’s Terror of Mechagodzilla.
Lila Garrett (November 21, 1925 – February 1, 2020) American writer who scribed a dozen episodes of the 1960s supernatural TV series, ‘Bewitched’.
Luciano Ricceri (26 April 1940 – 1 February 2020) Italian production designer for the 1966 dark comedy, The Devil in Love.
Lovelady Powell (May 9, 1930 – February 2, 2020) American actress who appeared in one episode of ‘Dark Shadows’ in 1966 and in the 1972 horror thriller, The Possession of Joel Delaney
José Luis Cuerda (18 February 1947 – 4 February 2020) Spanish producer, The Others (2001), with Nicole Kidman.
Gianni Minervini (26 October 1928 – 4 February 2020) Italian producer of the 1976 Giallo, The House of the Laughing Windows
Kirk Douglas (December 9, 1916 – February 5, 2020) American actor not generally known for genre work, but he did star in a not-well-received musical TV version of ‘Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ in 1973.
F. X. Feeney (September 1, 1953 – February 5, 2020) American screenwriter on Roger Corman’s 1990 adaptation of the Brian Aldiss novel, Frankenstein Unbound.
Raphaël Coleman (30 September 1994 – 6 February 2020) American actor in the 2009 remake of It’s Alive.
Orson Bean (July 22, 1928 – February 7, 2020) American actor who was all over television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and who made one appearance on ‘The Twilight Zone’.
Robert Conrad (March 1, 1935 – February 8, 2020) If you love steampunk, this is one of the guys who created it. Conrad was the star of ‘The Wild Wild West’, still after fifty years my favorite TV show of all time. Only one episode is truly horror related, ‘The Night of the Man-Eating House’. Hurd Hatfield from 1945’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is the guest star.
Paula Kelly (October 21, 1942 – February 8, 2020) American actress in the borderline horrific science fiction films, 1971’s The Andromeda Strain and 1973’s Soylent Green. Spoiler alert: It’s People!
Ron McLarty (April 14, 1947 – February 8, 2020) American actor whose first film role was as the real estate agent in 1977’s The Sentinel, which was based on the Jeffrey Konvitz horror novel of the same name.
Mirella Freni (27 February 1935 – 9 February 2020) Italian operatic soprano who sang in several genre-related operas over her illustrious fifty-year career, including Gounod’s Faust and Tchaikovsky’s Pique Dame (AKA Queen of Spades).
Marjorie Redmond (December 14, 1924 – February 10, 2020) American television actress, likely best known as Sister Jacqueline in ‘The Flying Nun’ (yes, a ‘60s TV show about a nun who, you guessed it, could fly), with stopovers along the way in ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘The Munsters’, as well as an episode of the spin-off (sort of) from Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’, ‘The Sixth Sense’ in 1972.
Raphael Romero Marchent (May 3, 1926 – February 13, 2020) Mexican director, Santo vs Doctor Death (1973) and Curse of the Black Cat (1977).
Zoe Caldwell (14 September 1933 – 16 February 2020) Australian actress with one appearance on the TV version of radio’s classic series, ‘Suspense’, in 1960. She’s best known for her stage performances in Macbeth and Medea, both of which have horrific connections. In fact, in early 1983, she brought her touring company of Medea to Knoxville, Tennessee, while my wife and I were students there. Yes, we saw it, and, yes, it was very, very good. Mitchell Ryan, late of ‘Dark Shadows’ and Dame Judith Anderson, who co-starred with Vincent Price in the great film noir, Laura, in 1946, appeared with her. There is a filmed performance of that production on YouTube.
Frances Cuka (21 August 1936 – 16 February 2020) English actress in 1980’s Watcher in the Woods with Bette Davis, and one episode of the ‘Hammer House of Horror’ BBC series.
Sonja Ziemann (8 February 1926 – 17 February 2020) German actress, Ghost in the Castle (AKA Spuk im Schloß, 1947)
Flavio Bucci (25 May 1947 – 18 February 2020) Italian actor, Suspiria (1977)
Bob Cobert (October 26, 1924 – February 19, 2020) Soundtrack composer on numerous genre films and TV shows, including the aforementioned ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ with Kirk Douglas; House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971); and The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), the forerunners of the ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ TV series. Also, The Norliss Tapes (1973), 1974’s TV Dracula with Jack Palance, and the 2012 Dark Shadows feature film with Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins.
José Mojica Marins (13 March 1936 – 19 February 2020) Brazilian actor best known as Coffin Joe in a trilogy of films, 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, 1967’s This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse and The Embodiment of Evil in 2008, with numerous other spooky film and TV appearances along the way.
Peter Dreher (26 August 1932 – 20 February 2020) German artist who enjoyed painting skulls. He called this series of creepy images ‘Totenschädel‘.
Claudette Nevins (April 10, 1937 – February 20, 2020) American actress, The Mask (1961). Not the one with Jim Carrey. This one is in 3-D, which would be much too much to tolerate from a Jim Carrey movie.
Nicola Cuti (October 29, 1944 – February 21, 2020) Comic book writer, editor and artist who wrote well over two hundred scripts for the horror comics line published by Charlton Comics in the 1970s, and co-created with artist Joe Staton the classic comic book super-hero, E-Man.
Boris Leskin AKA Boris Lyoskin (5 January 1923 – 21 February 2020) Romanian actor who had a small role in 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss with Nicolas Cage.
Russ Cochran (July 3, 1937 – February 23, 2020) A former physics professor who quit academia to collate and reprint the EC Comics of the early 1950s, preserving for new generations those gruesome yarns from crumbling issues of Tales from the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror. And some other stuff, Disney and Hopalong Cassidy comics and the like.
Ben Cooper (September 30, 1933 – February 24, 2020) American actor who made appearances on TV’s ‘Suspense’, ‘One Step Beyond’ and ‘The Twilight Zone’.
Michael Hugh Medwin, (18 July 1923 – 26 February 2020) American actor with one genre performance, in 1949’s Queen of Spades.
R. D. Call (February 16, 1950 – February 27, 2020) American character actor with appearances in ‘X-Files’ and ‘Supernatural’, among many, many other television shows.
Dieter Laser (17 February 1942 – 29 February 2020) German actor, Human Centipede (First Sequence), 2009
Frank McLaughlin (March 18, 1935 – March 4, 2020) Comic book artist and art director for Charlton Comics whose first credited work was on a story in the kaiju comic, Reptisaurus, in 1961.
Max von Sydow (10 April 1929 – 8 March 2020) Swedish actor and long-time collaborator with director Ingmar Bergman, he played chess with death in 1957 in The Seventh Seal and died trying to drive Pazuzu out of Linda Blair in The Exorcist in 1973.
Gary B. Kibbe (January 9, 1941 – March 9, 2020) American cinematographer on the John Carpenter films Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988), In the Mouth of Madness (1995), Village of the Damned (1995), Escape from L.A. (1996) and Vampires (1998), and one episode of HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt’, 1992’s ‘King of the Road’ starring Brad Pitt.
Suzy Delair (31 December 1917 – 15 March 2020) French actress in the 1942 dark comedy L’assassin habite… au 21 (The Murderer Lives at Number 21).
Roy Hudd, (16 May 1936 – 15 March 2020) English actor who played a morgue attendant in 1968’s The Blood Beast Terror, which starred Peter Cushing.
Stuart Whitman (February 1, 1928 – March 16, 2020) American leading man, star of many theatrical and television westerns, mysteries and adventure yarns, with one episode of ‘Night Gallery’ on his resume. He also co-starred with Psycho victim Janet Leigh in 1972’s Night of the Lepus, generally considered one of the worst movies ever made. I will not take an opposing position on that question.
Giovanni Romanini (27 December 1945 – 20 March 2020) Italian cartoonist, illustrator of the dark and often horrific Italian comic book series, Satanik, in the early 1970s.
Lucia Bosè (28 January 1931 – 23 March 2020) Italian actress who had a small role in Jean Cocteau’s 1960 film, Testament d’Orphee.
David Collings (4 June 1940 – 23 March 2020) English actor who played Bob Cratchit in 1970’s Scrooge.
Melinda O. Fee (October 7, 1942 – March 24, 2020) American actress who played Mrs. Webber in 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddie’s Revenge.
Stuart Gordon (August 11, 1947 – March 24, 2020) American screenwriter and director on 1985’s Re-Animator, the 1991 version of The Pit and the Pendulum, 2001’s Dagon, and two episodes of the ‘Masters of Horror’ TV show.
Juan Padron (January 29, 1947 – March 24, 2020) Cuban director of Vampiros en La Habana (1985) and Mas Vampiros en La Habana (2003).
Barbara Rütting (21 November 1927 – 28 March 2020) German actress in early ‘60s adaptations of a couple of Edgar Wallace’s horror-thriller novels, Der Zinker (The Squeaker, 1963) and Das Phantom von Soho (1964).
Krzysztof Penderecki (23 November 1933 – 29 March 2020) Polish composer of Die Teufel von Loudun (The Devils of Loudun), a 1968-1975 opera based on an episode of mass demonic possession in 17th Century France. Yes, it took him seven years to write an opera. How long does it take YOU?
Hilary Heath, AKA Hilary Dwyer (6 May 1945 – 30 March 2020) British actress in 1968’s The Witchfinder General and 1969’s The Oblong Box, both with Vincent Price in Edgar Allen Poe inspired films, 1970’s Cry of the Banshee, also with Price, and in the 1970 version of Wuthering Heights, which starred future James Bond Timothy Dalton.
Vincent Marzello (July 4, 1951 – March 31, 2020) American actor in 1990’s The Witches.
Olan Montgomery (April 12, 1963 – April 4, 2020) An American actor known for playing a newsman for four episodes during the third season of the Netflix series, ‘Stranger Things’. He died of COVID-19.
Honor Blackman (22 August 1925 – 5 April 2020) British actress who made her mark in film history by portraying the redoubtable Pussy Galore in the third James Bond film, 1964’s Goldfinger, after having spent two seasons practicing her judo throws on bad guys in the BBC series, ‘The Avengers’. She co-starred with Christopher Lee and Nastassja Kinsky in 1976’s To the Devil a Daughter, based on the Dennis Wheatley novel.
Lee Fierro (February 13, 1929 – April 5, 2020) American actress who played the mother of the little boy eaten by the shark in Jaws in 1975.
James Drury (April 18, 1934 – April 6, 2020) American actor who spent nine seasons starring in the ninety-minute television western, ‘The Virginian’. Before that, though, he was a crewman on the spaceship C-57D in the 1956 science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet, which was loosely based on Shakespeare’s marginally horrific last play, The Tempest, and did have folks killed by something called ‘the monster from the Id’. So, yes. It counts as horror, at least a little.
Allen Garfield (AKA Allen Goorwitz; November 22, 1939 – April 7, 2020) American actor who specialized in playing officious minor authority figures whose bark was always worse than their bite. Except, of course, when he starred in 1978’s Sketches of a Strangler, in which he put the bite on several actresses in a manual way. He was also in the 1996 remake of the classic French horror film, Diabolique, with Sharon Stone.
Mort Drucker (March 22, 1929 – April 9, 2020) For decades, Hollywood actors only knew they’d finally ‘arrived’ when this Mad Magazine artist and master caricaturist included them in one of his movie or television parodies. Drucker started out doing war comics for DC before signing on with EC, Mad’s publisher, shortly after they shut down their comic book line (see the Russ Cochran entry above) in favor of putting all their eggs in the Mad basket. The first one of his I remember seeing must have been in one of the reprint collections Mad issued a time or two a year. It was the parody of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho. To this day, there are frames from that film I see in my mind’s eye, not in cinematic black and white, but in Drucker’s distinctive style as he recreated them for the magazine.
Nobuhiko Obayashi (9 January 1938 – 10 April 2020) Japanese director, House (1977)
Margot Hartman (August 15, 1933 – April 11, 2020) American actress, Curse of the Living Corpse (1964). Janet Leigh should stay out of showers, and poor Margot should stay out of tubs for the same reason. How is a lady supposed to stay clean?
Danny Goldman (October 30, 1939 – April 12, 2020 American actor in 1974’s Young Frankenstein. He was the obnoxious medical student who drove Gene Wilder to stab himself in the thigh with a scalpel.
Joel M. Reed (December 29, 1933 – April 13, 2020) American schlock director of Blood Sucking Freaks (1976) and other exercises in questionable taste.
Brian Dennehy (July 9, 1938 – April 15, 2020) American tough guy actor, who discovered in First Blood that he wasn’t nearly as tough as Sylvester Stallone’s John Rambo. He didn’t do much better as the fire chief in 1977’s Ants!
Gene Deitch (August 8, 1924 – April 16, 2020) Czech-American animator on Where the Wild Things Are (1975), and creator of one of my childhood favorite cartoon series, ‘Tom Terrific’, who appeared periodically with his sidekick, Manfred the Wonder Dog, on the Captain Kangaroo show. Ah, the good old days.
Jacques Rosny (25 March 1939 – 18 April 2020) French actor who had a small role in Roman Polanski’s 1976 psychological horror film, The Tenant.
Hector Garrido (1928 – April 19, 2020) American illustrator who painted hundreds of paperback book covers in all genres, including horror.
Shirley Knight (July 5, 1936 – April 22, 2020) Oscar-nominated American actress whose only genre work I know of was an episode of ‘The Outer Limits’ in 1963, co-starring Martin Landau.
John Lafia (April 2, 1957 – April 29, 2020) American director of 1993’s Man’s Best Friend, one of several lethal dog movies from around that period
John Ericson (September 25, 1926 – May 3, 2020) German-American actor, the leading man and personification of the Great God Pan in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao in 1964, and the German officer whose invading force was driven off of Britain’s shores by empty suits of armor animated by apprentice witch Angela Lansbury in the 1971 Disney live-action feature, Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Richard Sala (June 2, 1954 – May 7, 2020) American comic book creator on 1995’s The Ghastly Ones and Other Fiendish Frolics from Manic D Press, and IDW’s 2005 Dracula, among others.
Marty Pasko (August 4, 1954 – May 10, 2020) Canadian comic book writer who primarily worked in the super-hero genre for DC and Marvel, but who began his career with a script each for Warren Publication’s Eerie and Vampirella magazines in the early ‘70s.
Jerry Stiller (June 8, 1927 – May 11, 2020) American comedian and actor, father of Ben. He appeared in one episode of ‘Tales from the Darkside’.
Frank Bolle (June 23, 1924 – May 12, 2020) Italian-American comic book artist who, among many other things, illustrated horror stories for Atlas Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics, in 1956 and 1957.
Fred Willard (September 18, 1933 – May 15, 2020) American comedy actor, perhaps best known for his work in the series of Christopher Guest comedy films of the 1980s and 1990s, beginning with This is Spinal Tap. He did make a memorable appearance as the rascally realtor in the 1979 TV miniseries Salem’s Lot who gets caught with his pants down, both by the cuckolded husband and by vampire Kurt Barlow.
Cindy Butler (October 15, 1955 – May 26, 2020) American actress, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) and Boggy Creek II: And the Legend Continues (1984). Neither one, to paraphrase Dr. Samuel Johnson, worth seeing, and even less worth going to see.
Richard Herd (September 26, 1932 – May 26, 2020) American character actor whose genre career began with 1980’s Schizoid and culminated in a videotaped performance of patriarch Roman Armitage in 2017’s Get Out, with a stop in the ‘Tales from the Crypt’ TV series along the way.
Anthony James (July 22, 1942 – May 26, 2020) Twitchy American actor, sort of the poor-man’s Anthony Perkins, who played the chauffeur in the 1976 classic Burnt Offerings with Bette Davis.
Dan van Husen (30 April 1945 – May 2020) German actor who, among many other minor horror roles, played the warden in 1979’s Nosferatu the Vampyre. If forced to choose between this among his films, or Killer Barbys vs Dracula from 2001, I think you know which way to jump.
Andrée Champagne (July 17, 1939 – June 6, 2020) Canadian actress, Playgirl Killer (1967). Not Canada’s finest hour.
Joanne Lara (June 3, 1952 – June 9, 2020) American actress notable, if that’s the word, for being the title character (‘Maria’) in an episode of ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, and for playing a bit part in It’s Alive III: Island of the Alive.
Joe Johnson (June 25, 1957 – June 10, 2020) American actor, victim of a misapplied power tool in The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
Dennis O’Neil (May 3, 1939 – June 11, 2020) American comic book writer who worked for both Marvel and DC but is best known for his long association with the artist Neal Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and on the various Batman titles, many stories for which he included a supernatural element. ‘The Secret of the Waiting Graves’, the Batman story in Detective Comics 295 from January of 1970 concerns a couple whose time ultimately runs out after several hundred years, for example. O’Neil also worked with artist Steve Ditko on Beware… the Creeper in the 1960s and with Mike W. Kaluta on The Shadow in the early 1970s.
Ian Holm (12 September 1931 – 19 June 2020) Distinguished English actor who, long before he was Bilbo Baggins, played a murderous android in 1979’s Alien.
Philip Latham (17 January 1929 – 20 June 2020) English actor, Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)
Joel Schumacher (August 29, 1939 – June 22, 2020) American director, notorious for taking the campy surrealism of Tim Burton’s two Batman films and twisting the franchise in his own two sequels into a surrealistic campiness that was a definite step down. Viewers can make up their own minds as to whether he redeemed himself by directing Gerard Butler in the film version of the Phantom of the Opera musical in 2004. This deponent sayeth not.
Joe Sinnott (October 16, 1926 – June 25, 2020) Legendary comic book artist, favored inker over the pencil work of King of the Comics Jack Kirby, and prolific illustrator of 1950s horror tales for the aforementioned Atlas Comics.
Stuart Cornfeld (November 13, 1952 – June 26, 2020) American producer, The Fly (1986)
Taryn Power (September 13, 1953 – June 26, 2020) American actress, daughter of Golden Age of Hollywood megastar Tyrone Power, Junior, and granddaughter of silent movie star Tyrone Power, Senior. She appeared in the Ray Harryhausen classic, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and not much else. This apple did, it seems, fall far from the tree.
James Holloway (d. June 28, 2020) American illustrator for many monster-laden Dungeons & Dragons related publications, including Dragon Magazine.
Johnny Mandel (November 23, 1925 – June 29, 2020) American music producer, orchestrator and conductor, Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
Dan Hicks (July 19, 1951 – June 30, 2020) American actor, Evil Dead II (1987) and Darkman (1990).
Billy Tang (1951 – 7/2/20) Chinese director, Dial D for Demons (2000)
Yoon Sam-yook (May 25, 1937 – July 2, 2020) Korean screenwriter, Suddenly in the Dark (1981)
Ronald L. Schwary (May 23, 1944 – July 2, 2020) American producer, Meet Joe Black, the 1998 remake of the classic Death Takes a Holiday, previously filmed in 1934 and 1971.
P.H. Aykroyd (February 5, 1922 – July 4, 2020) Canadian father of Ghostbuster Dan Aykroyd, author of “A History of Ghosts: The True Story of Seances, Mediums, Ghosts and Ghostbusters” with Angela Narth
Ennio Morricone (10 November 1928 – 6 July 2020) Italian soundtrack composer, The Thing (1982), as well as numerous gialli. The spaghetti western scores he is most famous for comprise a small percentage of his total, voluminous output. Tell me you didn’t just whistle the opening bars to The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Go ahead. Not that I’ll believe you. Wah-WAH-wah…
Charlie Daniels (October 28, 1936 – July 6, 2020) American musician, The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The Devil should have known better than to bet a golden fiddle against the soul of a Saltine-American bluegrass champion. Stupid Devil.
Raymundo Capetillo (1 September 1943 – 12 July 2020) Mexican actor, Bestia Nocturna (1986).
Kelly Preston (October 13, 1962 – July 12, 2020) American actress, Christine (1983).
Sonia Darrin (June 16, 1924 – July 19, 2020) American actress best known for playing the snarky porno dealer in the 1946 Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall film noir classic, The Big Sleep, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler. That was pretty much the pinnacle of her brief career, but she did manage to squeeze in a bit part in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943.
Jacqueline Scott (June 25, 1931 – July 23, 2020) American actress, Macabre (1958).
John Saxon (August 5, 1936 – July 25, 2020) American actor, A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). I had no idea he was living maybe twenty miles from me when he passed away. I’m not sure what I would have done had I known, but I’d like to think if I’d run into him at some point, I might’ve asked to shake the hand of a man who had sparred with Bruce Lee. That’s something not a whole lot of folks can say they’ve done.
Dame Olivia de Havilland (July 1, 1916 – July 26, 2020) British actress born in Japan, the woman no less an expert on the topic of feminine pulchritude than Errol Flynn always considered ‘the one that got away’. They made some damn good movies together, starting with 1938’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, far and away the best film version of that legend. Alas, Errol died in 1959, and a few years later Olivia joined the brigade of past-their-prime actresses in the psychological horror film fad of the early 1960s. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte was the 1964 entry in that sweepstakes, and it’s a doozy, with Bette Davis, Bruce Dern, Mary Astor, Joseph Cotten and Agnes Morehead along for the ride.
Jan Skopeček (19 September 1925 – 27 July 2020) Czech actor, The Mysterious Castle in the Carpathians (1981)
Gianrico Tedeschi (20 April 1920 – 27 July 2020) Italian actor, Frankenstein: Italian Style (1975) and Dr. Jekyll Likes Them Hot (1979).
Alan Parker (14 February 1944 – 31 July 2020) English director, Angel Heart (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Robert DeNiro as the Devil, based on the novel by William Hjortsberg.
Wilford Brimley (September 27, 1934 – August 1, 2020) American actor and commercial spokesman, owner of one of the few mustaches more impressive than mine, and one of the poor fools isolated at the top of the world with an interplanetary shapeshifter in 1982’s second version of The Thing. Okay, the 1951 original scared the hell out of me when I was eight and caught it on Night Owl Theater early on a Saturday morning, but I totally get why many folks consider John Carpenter’s remake of John W. Campbell’s 1938 short story ‘Who Goes There?’ to be superior. I don’t agree, but I don’t totally disagree. Either way, Brimley’s performance is suitably creepy, albeit brief.
Daisy Coleman (March 30, 1997 – August 4, 2020) American actress and advocate for her fellow victims of sexual violence, she made Texas Death Trippin’ in 2019 before committing suicide a year later. Regardless of the film’s quality, it’s such a terrible waste of a human life and potential that I find the situation far more horrific than the film could possibly be. People suck.
Ben Cross (16 December 1947 – 18 August 2020) English actor who essayed the role of Barnabas Collins in the revival of the TV classic, Dark Shadows, in 1991. He also appeared in an episode of HBO’s ‘Tales from the Crypt’, and played another vampire in 1989’s Nightlife opposite Maryam d’Abo.
Lori Nelson (August 15, 1933 – August 23, 2020) American actress, Revenge of the Creature (1955). Clint Eastwood has a bit part as a marginally competent lab assistant. Lori gets carried off into the Florida swamps by the escaped Gillman in this first sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon, until she’s rescued by leading man and former Mr. Shirley Temple John Agar. Like the first one, this is also in 3-D.
Joe Ruby (March 30, 1933 – August 26, 2020) American television producer and co-creator of Scooby-Doo. Darn those meddling kids!
Peter Licassi (April 1, 1959 – August 27, 2020) Actor, Killer Clowns from Outer Space (1988)
Sidney Noel Rideau (December 25, 1929 – August 27, 2020) New Orleans TV host of ‘House of Shock’ (Dr. Morgus).
Bob Fujitani (October 15, 1921 – September 6, 2020) American comic book artist of Irish-Japanese ancestry. He illustrated numerous stories in all genres for a variety of publishers in the 1940s, including some horror. He had a long run on the peripherally horrific series, The Hangman. The Hangman appeared in MLJ’s Pep Comics as well as in his own title. MLJ was the original name of the publisher now called Archie Comics, by the way.
Dame Diana Rigg (20 July 1938 – 10 September 2020) British actress who, like Honor Blackman, graduated from female lead of the BBC’s ‘The Avengers’ to Bond Girl status in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969. Unlike Blackman, she got 007 (George Lazenby) to put a ring on it. Too bad arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld machine-gunned her out of the British spy’s life before the wedding night. She went on to play the daughter of crazed Shakespearean actor Vincent Price in 1973’s Theatre of Blood, probably the best specifically Vincent Price movie ever. Partisans of the Dr. Phibes films are free to disagree, but they’re still wrong.
Barbara Jefford (26 July 1930 – 12 September 2020) British actress who manages to get herself garroted in her wheelchair in The Ninth Gate (1999). How rude!
Michael Chapman (November 21, 1935 – September 20, 2020) American cinematographer, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). The second version of the classic Jack Finney story first published in Collier’s Weekly magazine in the 1950s. The tale of how I and two friends saw this film at the old Tennessee Theater in downtown Nashville is the stuff of legend, and if you and I ever run in to one another in a bar or pub somewhere, and you buy me a few drinks, I will tell you all about it. The saga involves a 1956 Chevy, a double-boom wrecker and a multiple Hugo Award winning science fiction author, so I don’t think I’m too out of line in assuming that you’ll be obliged to admit in advance that it’s worth the price of a few drinks to be told. If I’m wrong, I’ll apologize.
Ron Cobb (September 21, 1937 – September 21, 2020) American production designer and concept artist, Alien (1979). And what a great job he did! I’ve got to tell you folks, I saw this film the first night of its release, and I was the only person in the audience who knew about the chest-burster scene. You have not lived until you’ve been in a movie theater with four hundred strangers going absolutely berserk over what’s happening to John Hurt, while you’re sitting back and laughing at the whole bloody thing.
Xavier Loyá (December 31, 1934 – September 22, 2020) Mexican actor, one of the partygoers trapped in the apres-opera drawing room in the Luis Buñuel classic, The Exterminating Angel (1962). He was also in Santo vs the Vampire Women the same year. A very versatile fellow, apparently.
Juliette Gréco (7 February 1927 – 23 September 2020) French actress, Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (1950).
Yūko Takeuchi (April 1, 1980 – September 27, 2020) Japanese actress, Ringu (1998).
Maud Hansson (5 December 1937 – 1 October 2020) The Swedish actress appeared as a witch in the 1957 Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal.
Armelia McQueen (January 6, 1952 – October 3, 2020) American actress, Ghost (1990).
Henryk Boukolowski (January 11, 1937 – October 4, 2020) Polish actor in the 1972 short film, Beczka Amontillado, based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, ‘A Cask of Amontillado’. For the love of God, Montressor!
Margaret Nolan (29 October 1943 – 5 October 2020) English actress, went from a bit part in 1964’s Goldfinger with Sean Connery to a bit part in 1968’s Witchfinder General with Vincent Price. Not exactly a step up, but neither was it a step down. Call it a lateral move.
Osvaldo Ruggieri (January 8, 1928 – October 10, 2020) Italian actor, Werewolf Woman (1976).
Rhonda Fleming (8/10/23-10/14/20) Zaftig American actress known as the Queen of Technicolor for how the process loved her red hair, green eyes and fair skin. She made mostly westerns and a few films noir, as well as the first (and best) version of The Spiral Staircase in 1946, based on the novel by Ethel Lina White. She gets her pretty neck wrung by serial killer George Brent well before the denouement. Am I beginning to sense a theme here?
Spencer Davis (17 July 1939 – 19 October 2020) Welsh musician and actor. Way up there, near the top of this list, I mentioned The Ghost Goes Gear. Here it is again. See the previous entry. Davis discovered his lead singer, Steve Winwood, later of Traffic, when the fourteen-year-old was playing jazz in a club in Birmingham, England. The Spencer Davis Group made some very good records. Movies, not so much. Unlike Herman’s Hermits, who made three films, they had the good sense to quit when they weren’t too far behind.
Gianni Dei (21 December 1940 – 19 October 2020) Italian actor, Patrick Still Lives (1980).
Wojciech Pszoniak (2 May 1942 – 19 October 2020) Polish actor, The Devil (1972).
Marge Champion (September 2, 1919 – October 21, 2020) American dancer who, with her husband, Gower, was perpetually prominent in the MGM musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and who modeled for Walt Disney on his feature films, Snow White & the Seven Dwarves (1937), Pinocchio (1940) and Fantasia (1940). Not specifically for characters in the scary parts of those pictures, but close enough for inclusion here.
Richard A. Lupoff (February 21, 1935 – October 22, 2020) American speculative fiction author and genre historian. I can’t say that knew Dick Lupoff, although he was a member of a couple of Yahoo groups I belonged to when that was still a thing. We might have commented on the same threads, I don’t recall. I wish I had interacted more with him when I had the chance, for he was a treasure. He was one of the editors and contributors to both All in Color for a Dime and The Comic Book Book, two of the seminal histories of one of the crucial media by which our genre has been disseminated, and both of which volumes included important chapters regarding horror in the comic books. Future columns on horror comics will no doubt contain information gleaned from one or the other of those two volumes.
Jacques Godin (September 14, 1930 – October 26, 2020) Canadian actor, The Pyx (1973) with Karen Black and Christopher Plummer.
Ricardo Blume (August 16, 1933 – October 30, 2020) Peruvian actor, Sobrenatural (All of Them Witches, 1996)
Sean Connery (25 August 1930 – 31 October 2020) Scottish actor. There is a no-doubt apocryphal story that Connery was contacted when Gordon Scott decided to hang up his loincloth and retire as the cinematic Tarzan. Connery had played one of the villains in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure in 1959, Scott’s penultimate appearance in the series. Sean had done such a good job that he was supposedly asked if he’d be willing to don the loincloth himself. According to legend, he told Tarzan producer Sy Weintraub that he was committed to star in some spy picture, and that once that was finished, he’d consider the offer to play the Lord of the Jungle. As everyone knows, Connery went on to play James Bond another six times after Dr. No, won an Oscar for The Untouchables in 1987 and never got around to playing the apeman. Weintraub was forced to go with the villain from Scott’s last Tarzan picture, Jock Mahoney, as his next jungle lord. The two pictures Mahoney starred in are considered among the best of the Tarzan films. A pity Connery got so tied up with Bond. He might have made something of himself, had he dispensed with the vodka martinis, Aston-Martins and Bond Babes, doffed his tuxedo and run off into the jungle wearing a scrap of deerskin instead. Ah, well. Fortunately for horror fans, he had already appeared in the Disney live-action Halloween staple, Darby O’Gill & the Little People, in 1959, as scary a picture as the Mouse Factory ever produced.
Rachel Caine (April 27, 1962 – November 1, 2020) Author of, among other works, the Morganville Vampire series of young adult novels.
Elsa Raven (September 21, 1929 – November 2, 2020) American actress, The Amityville Horror (1979).
John Fraser (18 March 1931 – 6 November 2020) Scottish actor in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), with Catherine Deneuve.
Ken Jones (d. November 6, 2020) American actor, Phantasm (1979).
Sven Wollter (11 January 1934 – 10 November 2020) Swedish actor, The 13th Warrior (1999).
Philip Voss (20 August 1936 – 13 November 2020) English actor, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). Voss’s last work was as Mason in the British TV series, ‘Vicious’, with Sir Ian McKellan and Sir Derek Jacoby.
Daria Nicolodi (19 June 1950 – 26 November 2020) Italian actress, Dario Argento’s Profundo Rosso (Deep Red, 1975) and Paganini Horror (1989).
David Prowse (7/1/35-11/28/20) English bodybuilder and actor. Yes, yes we all know about Darth Vader, but everyone eulogizing Prowse seems to have forgotten that he also played the monster in two Hammer films, The Horror of Frankenstein in 1970 and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell in 1974. And in 1980, he was in Nashville for a Star Wars convention I attended. I was standing in the back of one of those big hotel ballrooms, in front of a pair of double doors, listening to Peter Mayhew talk about being Chewbacca. I was twenty-two years old, six-foot-one, 210 solid pounds, young and impressive and in the best shape of my life, with all my teeth and a lot more wavy, blond hair than I possess now. I frequently enjoyed the company of attractive ladies, and they seemed to enjoy my company, as well. I was feeling, in other words, pretty good about myself.
And then, something huge moved into the room behind me. It was like being in the gravity well of a small planet. I turned and looked up and up and up at David Prowse, not in the Vader costume, but a head taller and a twice as wide across the shoulders as me on my best day. I felt very, very small and insignificant, indeed. We smiled and nodded, and then he was gone. I never spoke to him at that convention. I’m not sure I would have been able to.
The weekend was not ruined for me, I’m glad to say. That evening turned out well. Remember those drinks you were going to buy me? Add a few more, and you’ll hear the epic saga of a gold-plated droid, an AMC Hornet, and a crimson crustacean.
Richard Corben (10/1/40-12/2/20) American comic book artist. I first noticed his distinctive air-brushed style in the black and white Warren magazines, Creepy and Eerie, around 1970. His best-known work was probably in the Heavy Metal magazine in the late 1970s, for which he created the perpetually naked, bald and musclebound hero, Den. Den’s origin story was adapted to animated form in the Heavy Metal movie in 1981. He also did a lot of horror genre work for underground publishers Last Gasp and Rip Off Press.
André Gagnon (2 August 1936 – 3 December 2020) Canadian soundtrack composer, Phobia (1980)
Eduardo Galvão (April 19, 1962 – December 7, 2020) Brazilian actor, appeared in one episode of the 2002 television series ‘O Beijo do Vampiro’ (A Vampire’s Kiss).
Barbara Windsor (6 August 1937 – 10 December 2020) English actress, played Jack the Ripper’s second victim Annie Chapman in 1965’s A Study in Terror. The poor lass was well and truly dismembered before Sherlock Holmes (John Neville) could put a stop to Jack’s spree of spontaneous vivisection.
Hanna Stankówna (4 May 1938 – 14 December 2020) Polish stage and screen actress from the lovely city of Posnan, where my wife and I enjoyed a delightful lunch and some damn good beer some years ago. Her only genre role, as far as I can tell given my non-existent ability to decipher titles or plot synopses in her native language, was Lokis. Rekopis profesora Wittembacha (Lokis, the Manuscript of Professor Wittembach), from 1970.
Peter Lamont (12 November 1929 – 18 December 2020) British art director and production designer, Aliens (1986), as well as a slew of James Bond films.
Jiří Hálek (9/10/1930-12/18/2020) Czech actor, The Cremator (1969).
David Giler (January 10, 1943 – December 19, 2020) American film producer & screenwriter, Alien (1979).
Pero Kvrgić (4 March 1927 − 23 December 2020) Croatian actor, Nausikaya (1995).
Guy N. Smith (21 November 1939 – 24 December 2020) Prolific British horror author.
Josefina Echánove (September 29, 1927 or July 21, 1928 – December 29, 2020) Mexican actress, Amityville 3-D (1983).
Corrado Olmi (24 October 1926 – 29 December 2020) Italian actor in the dark comedy The Devil in Love (1966) and in the classic Giallo, The Cat o’ Nine Tails (1971).
Dawn Wells (October 18, 1938 – December 30, 2020) American actress. Like most families in the 1960s, we only had one television. While my parents were pretty indulgent as far as allowing my brother and I, and later our sisters, to watch whatever we wanted to, Dad did draw the line a few times. One of those instances was whenever Gilligan’s Island came on. He considered it the dumbest show ever, and objectively, at this considerable temporal remove, it’s only the existence of My Mother, the Car that argues very much against that assessment. So it was that I rarely watched it in first run. However, it ran, and still runs, in syndication, so I caught up with it as I raced into puberty in the early 1970s. And I was Team Ginger, all the way. I never got why anyone would prefer Mary Ann, and still don’t. I didn’t dislike her. As a character, I thought she was fine. As fine as the material allowed, anyhow. She seemed very sweet, and she was pretty in a cornfed sort of way, but for pure prurient interest, it was Ginger for whom I lusted. Oddly, in the case of WKRP in Cincinnati, I’m all about Bailey instead of Jennifer, which is the exact opposite dynamic. Wonder why that is?
Never mind. When Dawn Wells died, yesterday as I write this, from COVID-19, I was shocked and more than a little saddened. She lived in my hometown of Nashville for some years, and lent her support to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, a worthy cause if there ever was one. Ginger is the last surviving castaway, and that makes me feel more than a little old. Dawn’s only forays into horror were a couple of truly wretched B-flicks, The Town that Dreaded Sundown (1976) and Return to Boggy Creek (1977). Probably just as well she didn’t make any more, but I’m glad there were enough to include her in this list, even if she never was the object of my desire.
Robert Hossein (30 December 1927 – 31 December 2020) French writer, director and actor, The Wax Mask (AKA Maschera di Cera, 1997)
And there it is. Hopefully, the list I compile at the end of 2021 will be shorter. ‘Twould be a consummation devoutly to be wish’d.
Jess Chua is a writer and editor for a personal development podcast. Her micro-fiction was a runner-up in the Mysterious Photograph contest at Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. She enjoys yoga, healthy cooking, and spending time with her pets.
NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?
JC: I was possibly five years old when I first started learning about ghosts. I’ve been savoring taking my own sweet time exploring the genre since then.
NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?
JC: Hmm, it’s hard to pick just one. Some of my favorites include Psycho, The Shining, Pet Sematary.The Stepford Wives (1975). Alien, Silence of The Lambs, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974).
I recently added some Asian horror movies (like Third Eye and 23:59) onto my Netflix queue and look forward to checking those out.
The Ring (Japanese; 1998) was very creepy, too! I watched a little bit of it long ago and will need to finish watching it someday…
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror television show?
JC: I was very drawn in by Bates Motel and Kingdom (South Korean). I found the latter’s portrayal of zombies refreshing.
NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?
JS: Psycho was a slim book that packed a punch. I enjoyed the pacing and range of human emotions in Pet Sematary.
Aside from novels, I enjoy short stories in this genre as it allows me to check out different worlds and characters in a short amount of time.
NTK: Who is your favorite horror author?
JS: I’ve been a big fan of Edgar Allan Poe since I was sixteen. His haunting tales of the macabre stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them.
I almost have the full collection of out-of-print books by the late Singaporean writer Damien Sin, so he’s definitely another one of my favorite horror authors. I appreciate the originality and authentic, local flavor of his writing.
NTK: What inspires your writing?
JS: The highs and lows of the human psyche and human behavior.
NTK: If you were to meet a reader for the first time, and they asked for a recommendation from you about one of your works, what is the one book or story you would recommend to them?
JS: I would probably recommend a dark fiction chapbook that I’d like to compile in the near future. It’d be a convenient way for a new reader to check out my writing style and ideas.
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
JS: I think a 50-50 approach is fun to take. The characters sometimes have free will within a set idea that I have beforehand of what I’d like them to experience or be like. Visualizing the scenes they’re in is always a creative and analytical exercise.
NTK: What is your favorite monster?
JS: The Pontianak (a malevolent female spirit in Malaysian and Indonesian folklore), King Kong, or Godzilla.
NTK: As an Asian writer in the horror community, how has your experience been?
JS: As a writer of mixed ethnicity (Chinese-Eurasian) who has lived in different countries, it’s sometimes difficult to find the right balance in a story or piece of creative work. It can become very anxiety-inducing to think about whether the characters or story is inclusive enough to readers of different cultures and backgrounds. I try to stay focused on the plot and characters, and if race or geographic setting is integral to the story, then I do my best to write about it in an authentic way.
NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do HorrorAddicts have to look forward to?
JS: I’d like to continue working on short stories and reading the horror anthologies on my bookshelf. One of my stories will be published in a Gluttony-themed anthology and I have some Singapore-based ghost stories in mind. Southeast Asia has a rich variety of paranormal lore which have stayed with me, even though I’ve lived halfway across the world for over a decade now. Thanks for checking out my interview–and best wishes for 2021!
Loren Rhoadsserved as editor for Bram Stoker Award-nominated Morbid Curiosity magazine as well as the books The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two, Death’s Garden: Relationship with Cemeteries, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues: True Tales of the Unsavory, Unwise, Unorthodox, and Unusual. Her short stories have appeared in the books Best New Horror #27, Strange California, Sins of the Sirens: Fourteen Tales of Dark Desire, Fright Mare: Women Write Horror, and most recently in the magazines Weirdbook, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Space & Time.
Emerian Richis the author of the vampire book series, Night’s Knights, and writes romance under the name Emmy Z. Madrigal. Her romance/horror cross over, Artistic License, is about a woman who inherits a house where anything she paints on the walls comes alive. She’s been published in a handful of anthologies by publishers such as Dragon Moon Press, Hidden Thoughts Press, Hazardous Press, and White Wolf Press. She is the podcast Horror Hostess of HorrorAddicts.net.
In our round table interview, these talented ladies spoke of their newest creation, The Spooky Writer’s Planner.
NTK: What inspired The Spooky Writer’s Planner?
LR: I am a planner junkie. To be honest, I have trouble deciding what to do next, especially if projects have multiple steps, so I really need a planner to take the stress out of deciding how to move forward on a project. I kept buying new systems, hoping to find one that would tame my chaos, but no single system ever had all the forms I wanted or needed. I tried cobbling together a bunch of different systems, but it was ugly and frustrating.
ER: I wanted a planner that fit my needs better than any of those on the market. I’m kind of a planner fanatic. I buy several every year to try and “Frankenstein” one planner that will fit all my needs. I was talking to Loren about this and she has the same problem, so we join forces to create this one. We figured, even if no one else finds it helpful, at least we’ll have our perfect planner in our hands.
NTK: How did the planner come about? What started this awesome collaboration?
LR: I turned to Emerian and asked if she would consider designing the perfect planner for me. Once we got talking about the project, she realized that she could make a planner that was perfect for her, too. So, then we started sending our favorite planner pages back and forth, talking about what worked for us and why. That part was really fun.
I think she was startled by just how many planners I’ve tried over the years, though.
NTK: Who came up with the name?
LR: I credit Emerian for that. We went back and forth between Spooky Author’s Planner and Spooky Writer’s Planner, but I think she made the right choice to make it more inclusive.
ER: I think it was a collaborative brainstorm.
NTK: What are some of the problems you’ve encountered with other planners? Did you address these specifically when creating the Spooky Writer’s Planner?
LR: Other author planners that I’ve experimented with focused on things that weren’t useful to me. The one I started with last year spent pages on choosing editors and logging finances. The one I used in the middle of the year spent an enormous amount of time on figuring out how many hours you have to write in a week, then on choosing projects you can finish in those hours. Which required a much better understanding of how long projects take to complete than I have!
So, we stripped our planner back to what we really need as authors: a place to track submissions, a form for developing characters and one for world-building, weekly lists of deadlines, a way to track big projects, a game for collecting rejection slips as a way to inspire us to take chances on pitching to new markets, a system to celebrate successes… I am so bad at tracking things that I sat down earlier this month to figure out how many pieces I’ve had published in 2020. It was way more than I thought! I kept coming across interviews I’d forgotten I’d done. I need a place where I can log all of that and be able to track it better.
ER: Planners usually don’t address the needs of a writer’s life. They don’t account for charting progress or keeping track of submissions. So, often, a writer will have a planner and then other books or sheets to keep track of all that. With this planner, writers will have all that information all in one place. Easy to track and most of all, easy to access. We’ve also made the planner customizable. If you want a print book, we have that, but if you only use certain sheets or certain spreads, you can get the digital copy so you only print what you use.
NTK: There are inspirational quotes and tips included in the planner. How did you choose them and how did you come up with them? Are these tips and quotes personal to you?
LR: Years ago, I belonged to a writers group called the Red Room Writers Society. One Christmas, they gave us each a little red leather-bound book called a Commonplace Book, for collecting quotes that inspired us. Every time I see something about writing, I copy it down in my Commonplace Book. I’m really thrilled to share some of my favorite quotes in the planner.
A lot of the tips came from a seminar Emerian and I did at BayCon a couple of years ago. The topic was “How to Get Out of the Slush Pile.” We talked about what you can do as an author to improve your chances with an editor. Emerian suggested we include some of that in the planner, which I thought was a great idea.
ER: The tips and tricks are things we’ve learned during the combined 50 years of publishing experience we have. We give tips on publishing, submitting, marketing, and social media. We’ve also got quick tasks listed. Only have five minutes? We give you ideas on how to use that time to benefit your writing schedule.
NTK: Is the planner available in print and digital forms? Where can Horror Addicts find it?
LR: Yes! Emerian wanted a book-style planner. I wanted to be able to print pages as I needed them and keep them in a three-ring binder. So, we each got what we wanted! The paperback version is available on Amazon. The digital download is for sale on Etsy.
ER: They can find it on Amazon for the print version and Etsy for the digital version. We show the different types with pictures and examples, here.
NTK: Do you have any plans for future collaborations?
LR: I would love to work with Emz again. For a long time, I’ve been in awe of how many things she accomplishes and how incredibly creative she is. She was really a driving force in getting this planner done. I did a lot of the “fun” work, pulling together sample planners and daydreaming about the pages I wanted, but she did the hard imaginative design work. I kibitzed and proofread—which I love—but she had to make my suggestions real. She made the process really fun for me. I hope it was as much fun for her!
ER: I am so thrilled to be collaborating on this planner. Loren has been one of my favorite creators for years, even before I knew her, I admired her ‘zine Morbid Curiosity. Now that we’re friends, I’m still inspired every day by the way her brain works and the fun topics she comes up with, so you never know! PS… we’ve just been told we’ll be sharing a fiction TOC soon, so… stay tuned!
Christie Crapeticio, known as “EmoWeasel,” is a San Francisco-based illustrator who draws comics, children’s books, horror art, and pattern designs. She went to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. While attending school, she studied comic book art and children’s books.
EmoWeasel has been busy since we last spoke. Here’s what she’s been up to.
NTK: Welcome back to Chilling Chat, EmoWeasel! I hear you have a new comic series. What is it about?
EW: The comic series is called Demon Eye. It is a war fantasy. Here is the small elevator pitch:
Cirsto is forced to return home from a war she created. Once home she gets to see her old friends and family and is reminded of who she has truly failed. They all hope they can get back to where they were, but Cirsto knows she can’t be what she was. Haunted by her past actions she knows she can never be the friend they once loved.
Now Cirsto must readapt to the old ways of life while being plagued by what she has become.
NTK: Who are the main characters?
EW: The main character is named Cirsto. She is a wolf-demon from the Clover pack. The other supporting main characters are Garien, Panda, Alek, and Jay. They are all humans.
NTK: What inspired this new series?
EW: This has been a dream project of mine since I was 13, so it’s been a project I’ve been working on literally half my life.
While growing up I never had a lot of friends, so I loved to either watch cartoons and stuff and that always sparked stories in my head.
One day when I was in middle school, I saw a show called Naruto and I just fell in love with it! I started to watch it and read it and almost studied it. And after seeing the show and loving how it was built, I decided to finally put my overactive mind into use and start building my own story!
Working on Demon Eye has been one of my biggest drives to follow my art dreams. It’s because of the comic that I went to school, the Academy of Art University, here in San Francisco.
NTK: Where can Horror Addicts find it?
EW: Currently it is on Tapas.io, WEBTOONS, and my art Facebook page (@EmoWeasel). But it is getting printed into a comic book now! The book was supposed to be out on November 26, but due to printing problems, it will be available in my Etsy shop, Square shop, and Book shop on December 26. It will also be available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble on January 26. (keeping the 26 theme for all the months.) (Laughs.)
It should be available for preorder on Etsy and Square around the beginning of December. For the preorders, you can get some special stuff! Like a signed book, two special dye cut stickers and a print! These specials will only be available for preorders.
NTK: You also have a new podcast. What’s it called and what’s it about?
EW: The podcast is a spooky! It is done like the old radio shows back in the day. It is called Koszmar, and it is a dream project by the creator, in both senses because she’s wanted to make this come true and it’s based off a nightmare she had.
“In this story, we join a Detective, a washed-up recovering drunk who is transferred to Shaker Heights to work on a string of murder cases to find the culprit. As the Detective draws the strings together, he’s haunted by a past he cannot shake. Will he survive the nightmare? Join us on our journey with the Detective to try and solve the riddle behind the Widow’s Creek Lullaby.”
NTK: Where can Horror Addicts find it?
EW: It is on Spotify, apple music, and most podcast platforms.
NTK: What does the future hold? What new projects are on the horizon?
EW: So much is happening while nothing is happening at the same time. (Laughs.) I will be doing some fun short comics soon. One of the comics I will be doing is actually based off the podcast, so viewers will soon get to see the true horror that is the story.
Besides comics I am working my butt off the get my online stores looking pretty and also, I hope to finally get my art classes up and running. I will be doing comic classes, of course, and some fun crayon craft classes.
NTK: Thank you for joining us, EmoWeasel! It’s a pleasure as always!
EW: You’re welcome!
Addicts, you can find EmoWeasel on Facebook, and Instagram. Discover her work on her Etsy page. You can pre-order Demon Eye at her Etsy and Square sites. The book will be available December 26, 2020.
They tell me this is Freaky Foodie Month here at HorrorAddicts.net, so I’ve wandered down into the kitchen area of the basement laboratory and cobbled together a tasty little treat that I hope will satisfy the palate of even the most discriminating connoisseur de frissons. And yes, there will be dessert. I call this offering:
Submitted for Your Approval – A Man with No Upper Lip
Rod Serling got his start as a writer by winning a radio contest, after spending a few years in the Pacific Theater jumping out of airplanes in order to expedite the extermination of Japanese soldiers. He gradually worked his way up to the new medium of television in time for what is considered its Golden Age, a period when every evening brought Great Dramas into the homes of millions of Americans. Serling wrote his fair share of those Great Dramas, including Patterns and Requiem for a Heavyweight. Both were later made into movies and are considered high points of that Golden Age.
This was all heady stuff for a decorated war veteran and one of early television’s cadre of angry young men, but Serling wanted more. He yearned for a vessel into which he could pour his social concerns about censorship, racism, and war, and maybe exorcise the psychological demons left over from his military service. Alas, comfortable and complacent Middle America wasn’t ready to have its collective face shoved into its sins, and so a more allegorical approach was called for.
The Twilight Zone premiered on October 2, 1959. For five years, Serling, along with collaborators Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, created a series of little morality plays couched in the more palatable tropes of science fiction, fantasy, and horror tales. And then, it was gone, cancelled by the suits, only to reappear in the realm of perpetual syndication, where it lives on even today. Sixties television devolved into an endless parade of sitcoms, many of them with a supernatural bent; westerns; shoot-em-up action dramas; variety shows; spoofs of comic books and spy movies; and body counts from the Vietnam War on the evening news.
Like the War, the Sixties slopped over into the next decade. Popular music continued on much as before, not yet sullied by the arrival of disco. The usual array of genres persisted on television. And the news was still just as depressing as ever. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Serling spent the second half of the Sixties much as he had the Fifties, writing dramas for a medium that had turned out to be too small for him. He wrote a successful teleplay about an airline high-jacking, and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol that was as weighted towards modern concerns as the original story was towards the social ills of the Victorian Era. He created a high-brow western series called The Loner that only lasted one season, and lent his distinctive voice and stiff-upper-lip visage to a number of commercials.
At the end of the decade, he came up with a made-for-TV movie superficially similar to his last great success. Night Gallery was an anthology of three spooky stories, more horror-based than Twilight Zone ever was. Serling introduced each tale by revealing a painting inspired by it. Hence, the ‘gallery’ part of the title. The middle section, Eyes, starring Joan Crawford, was directed by Steven Spielberg. It was his first professional media job, and very nearly her last. Her final performance came a few years later in Night Gallery’s spin-off series, The Sixth Sense. More on that, and her, and him later in this space. Stay tuned!
Night Gallery was picked up for regular broadcast in 1971, one of a set of four titles that rotated weekly episodes as part of what was called a wheel series. The other show that survived Four in One’s only season was the fish-out-of-water detective show McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. McCloud moved over into another wheel series with two other long-running mysteries, Columbo and McMillan and Wife. Night Gallery went into regular production as a weekly program. Win for Serling!
But not quite as much as before. More of the same, but less, I’m afraid. This is not to say that Night Gallery wasn’t a good program; it was. It just wasn’t The Twilight Zone. But then, what was? Not even a major motion picture and a couple of revival series have been able to recapture that particular lightning-bolt-in-a-bottle.
It might have helped had Serling been able to exert more creative control than he was allowed, but that was not to be. Still, Night Gallery is not a series to be brushed aside without due consideration. It adapted some of the great stories in the genre, including works by H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, Algernon Blackwood and Robert Bloch, and by Serling’s old pal from Twilight Zone days, Richard Matheson.
Christianna Brand is not a name well-known to horror enthusiasts, I suspect. She was a mystery writer of some renown, but she only wrote enough horror tales to fill one collection, What Dread Hand?, published in 1968. One of the yarns therein, ‘The Sins of the Fathers’, first appeared, as far as I have been able to ascertain, in The Fifth Pan Book of Horror Stories. It was edited by Herbert van Thal four years previously. If you’re not familiar with this delightful series of anthologies, I urge you to haunt whatever used paperback vendors you have available to you and track down as many editions as you can get your talons into. I shall have more to say later on regarding the estimable Mijnheer van Thal, but for now, the dish upon the table is getting cold. And a little, um, congealed.
Sin eating is an old practice found in Wales and those English counties bordering Wales, in which a poor person would be hired for a nominal sum to dine upon bread and ale placed atop the corpse of a recently deceased sinner as it lay in state. The sins of the late reprobate would transfer, through the bread and ale, to the soul of the diner, preventing the lamented one from wandering the Earth as a vengeful spirit. The question remains, what of the sins of the sin eater, both original, and those acquired through gustation? What keeps that worthy in his grave? Therein lies the tale.
‘Sins of the Father’ was one of two stories presented in the second episode of Night Gallery’s second season, airing on February 23, 1972. It starred, among others, Barbara Steele, she of the vast, magnetizing eyes long familiar to horror aficionados from her performances in such classic terror films as Black Sunday, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Ghost. Frequent Oscar nominee and future winner Geraldine Page was along for the bumpy ride, as well, along with soon-to-be John-Boy Walton Richard Thomas, former Batman butler Alan Napier, and Michael Dunn, who had just recently completed a long run as master villain Dr. Miguelito Loveless on the classic spy-western show, The Wild Wild West.
Dunn scours the Welsh countryside on half of his master, who lies three days dead, covered in a feast of lamb and cakes and cheeses. The servant is in search of a sin eater, one who has not already succumbed to the plague and famine ravaging the land. With time running out, he finds his last option too sick with disease and hunger to travel the distance, but that sin eater has a son. The boy absconds with the food without taking on the sins of the dead man, but when he returns home, finds his own father dead. Where are that sin eater’s sins to go, but into the starving mouth of the next one in line?
Not so horrifying in the brief description, perhaps, but like any fine meal, there’s so much more in the presentation. Even better, every name mentioned above has a genre pedigree that dates back, in some cases, into the silent era. Lots of material for future installments.
I did mention dessert, yes? Well, Stanley Ellin is another mystery writer of historical significance who dabbled in the macabre. His first published short story, ‘Specialty of the House’, is one of those that really sticks to the ribs, so to speak. A restaurant that caters to a very particular clientele offers an occasional specialty that only the best customers get to sample, or participate in the preparation thereof. Creepiness is on the menu, served with healthy dollop of frisson on the side.
‘Specialty of the House’ has been reprinted in dozens of periodicals, collections and anthologies since it was first published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, in the May, 1948 issue. It was adapted to television during the fifth season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents show and broadcast on December 13, 1959, and on the revival of that series on March 21, 1987. Robert Morley, whose turn upon the spit in Theatre of Blood also involves food, stars. That classic film deserves its own lengthy consideration, rather than a superficial glossing over here, so more on that later.
The first one is available for viewing here:
In the early Seventies, Vincent Price was among several stars who were part of an attempted revival of old-time radio in the modern era. His BBC program, The Price of Fear, featured an adaptation of the yarn on April 13th, 1974. It can be found on You Tube or in the Internet Archives. Worth seeking out!
So, there it is. Hope you enjoyed my little concoction. Would you like an aperitif? A little libation to wash it all down with? Don’t worry, there will be more coming, perhaps sooner than you think. Stay blood-thirsty, my friends. And, as always –
Greetings HorrorAddicts. This month’s review has one helluva backstory. There’s a rock band, a romance, a drug problem, and a resurrection of sorts. I had to do a deep dive to give the album a full critique and what I found was a story that tragically has a lot in common with so many bands who have lost frontmen to the excesses of rock ‘n’ roll, however, the surviving members of Static-X are determined to make their own way back in an unusual but compelling way.
Static-X celebrated the 20th anniversary of their album Wisconsin Death Trip in 2019. The original lineup toured to commemorate the album…with a singer dubbed Xer0. Because Wayne Static died in 2014 of a deadly combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. News came out that the band was recording a new album using some of Wayne’s demos and compositions, a guest spot from Al Jourgenson of Ministry and would feature this new, unknown, masked singer, which has been a controversial move for some of their fans. The band, on the other hand, maintains that Wayne would have found it hilarious. (https://www.loudersound.com/features/static-x-the-story-behind-that-controversial-wayne-static-death-mask).
And man is this album amazing. What a testament to Wayne and a reminder of the magic the original line-up had together.
For those new to Static-X, their hit song “Push-It” has been a staple of the industrial rock/metal scene for years. On this new album, Project Regeneration, Volume I, there’s that same electronic-tinged in-your-face feel of their early work, but the melodic atmosphere of powerhouse bands like Korn, Rammstein, or even Rob Zombie can be heard in the mix. “Worth Dyin’ For” has a hooky chorus, and “Terminator Oscillator” is a hard-hitting tune with a chanting rhyme that is the metal fan’s version of INXS’s “Mediate.” My favorite track on the album so far—and that changes each time I listen because they’re all great—is “Something Of My Own,” a powerful, emotional jam that resonates with its lyrics about opportunities missed due to the loss of Wayne.
The hard rock/metal scene these days has matured from the days of nu-metal when Static-X first set up shop, but Project Regeneration, Volume I fits in nicely with today’s sound. The album is a great tribute to a band that obviously has a lot more to offer, and it’s one I will be jamming to for quite some time.
That’s it for this month. Stay Tuned for Ro’s Recs…
R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor. You can also find her hope-filled posts at www.queeromanceink.com.
Breaking Bread begins in the home of Fidelia Meek, the Meek Mansion, which is less than two miles from my house. The house is an historic site and I drive past it every week. The home was built in 1869 after William Meek and his family relocated to what is now San Lorenzo in order to plant orchards. He and his partner, Henderson Lewelling, got their start in the fruit business up in Oregon and brought their know-how to California to start anew. The area is now part of the Bay Area suburban sprawl, but the Hayward Historical Society has gone to great lengths to preserve the home. It’s a glorious white building with many windows and turrets. I’ve been inside a handful of times and it always feels full to the brim of stories, almost as if you could run your fingers along the wall or the banister and absorb the history through your pores.
When I discovered the submission call for Dark Divinations, I fell into a rabbit hole of research on the house, the area, and what women of the time may have been interested in. I discovered the use of Alphitomancy—the use of bread to determine one’s innocence or guilt—and away the story went! I was even able to score a couple of tickets to a paranormal investigation of the home one night and though it was a thrill to attend with my pal Karysa and to hear stories about the people who lived there, nothing much out of the ordinary occurred. Still, we got to explore parts of the house that are usually closed to the public, and I loved every moment.
When the place you live in and love is full of history, it doesn’t take much to be inspired.
Once upon a time… A teacher, tattoo collector, mom, and rock ‘n’ roll kinda gal opened up a doc and started purging her demons. Twenty-five published works later, with more tucked away in her evil lair, R.L. Merrill strives to find that perfect balance between real-life and happily ever after. You can find her lurking on social media, being a mom-taxi to two brilliant kids, in the tattoo chair trying desperately to get that back piece finished, or headbanging at a rock show in the San Francisco Bay Area! Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance.
Who would like it: The people who would like both movies fans of Coming of Age stories, Zombies, Twisted Families and gore hounds.
High Points: —
Overall: Preferred Somos Lo Que Hay over the remake We Are What We are
Stars: No Rating
Where I watched it: VOD
Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains. Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.
When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net
She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.
Real World Trauma Acerbates the flaws in The Strain Seasons Two and Three
by Kristin Battestella
After an unraveling end to the First Season of The Strain, it took me a long, long while to return to the thirteen-episode 2015 Second Season. Childhood flashbacks recounting fairy tales of nobles with gigantism and quests for the curing blood of a gray wolf start the year off well. Horrific blood exchanges lead to village children vanishing in the shadow of the creepy castle before we return to the present for secret deals with The Master, alliances with the Ancient Ones, and blind telepathic feeler vampires canvassing the city. Scientists Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) contemplate vampire vaccines while former antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) pursues a rare strigoi text and rat catcher Fet (Kevin Durand) prepares their explosive defensive. Government officials like Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) fight back against the zombie like masses despite shootouts in infested laboratories, double-crosses, and sentient, disguised as human foot soldiers. Old fashioned black and white Mexican horror reels add personality and history to our reluctant heroes while more superb action and flashbacks standout late in the season with “The Assassin” and “Dead End.” Unfortunately, early on in Year Two, my main dilemma with the First Season of The Strain returned– you can read all of this, but it is much too much onscreen. Unnecessary timestamps and location notations clutter reintroduced characters, new problems, old problems, and unintroduced newcomers. There are too many separated characters with unbalanced screen time who must repeatedly explain who they are. Enemy’s enemy is my friend mixed motivations create confusion – multiple people hunting The Master individually making promises to his fellow ancient vampires with little background on who these chained monsters chilling beneath Brooklyn are. Cryptic double talk and real estate transactions may be filler or meandering developments, but it’s a toss up on which one will drag on or disappear. The past stories are often more tantalizing because our team isn’t much of a team. It took so long in the First Year to get everyone together, yet each is still toiling over what to do in this vampire zombie apocalypse. After previous fears over any tiny contagion, one and all shoot, blast, slice, and splatter at will. They hand out fliers with the monster details and warn the community, yet unaware police are shocked to find vampires in a dark alley.
Maybe The Strain is meant to mirror how no one is on the same page in a crisis – we are now witnessing that chaotic misinformation mistake first hand indeed – but the plot is all over the place, too. It’s been a few weeks onscreen since The Strain began, however, life is upside down for some while others seem totally unbothered. Again, this is a foreboding parallel to our real life pandemic with the poor working man much more deeply impacted than the wealthy ease of access, but here there’s no sense of the storytelling scope despite opportunistic orchestrations and tough women securing the five boroughs. Slick villains talk of great visions and master plans, but tangents diverge into a dozen different threads and multiple dead ends. Is The Strain about a doctor experimenting on the infected to test scientific theories or weird do nothing telepathic vampires and slow strigoi chases? Are we to enjoy the precious moments between our little people struggling on the ground or awe at the zombie outbreak turned vampire mythology? New people and places are constantly on the move, jumbled by an aimless, plodding pace as too little too late politicians talk about quarantines when The Strain is past containment. Confusing, pointless storylines take away from important intrigues and significant elements tread tires amid random threats and dropped crises. The conflicts on cruel science for the greater good grow hollow thanks to constant interruptions and changed emotions. Provocative diluted worm extracts taken for illness or ailments are used as control by the strigoi or when necessary for our heroes, but the scientific analysis of such a tonic or hybrid cases is never considered. Infecting the infected experiments and vampire free island security only take a few episodes, yet viewers today who can’t pay the rent are expected to believe it takes weeks for a market free fall and runs on banks? “The Born” starts off great, but often there’s no going back to what happens next regarding cures and Roman history as contrived messy or blasé action pads episodes. Rather than driving away in a cop car, dumbed down characters run into a church for a lagging, maze-like battle that kills an interesting minority character. When the community comes together for “The Battle for Red Hook,” unnecessary family pursuits ruin the sense of immediacy while the hop, skip, and jump to Washington D.C. for two episodes of scientific effort gets ditched for glossed over vampire factions and historic relics. Both the lore and science are interesting, but these mashed together entities compete for time as if we’re changing the channels and watching two shows at once. Instead of the rich detail we crave, The Strain continually returns to its weakest plot with shit actions and stupid players causing absurd consequences.
The Strain, however, does look good, and the ten episode Third Season provides coffins, gore, goo, and nasty bloodsucking appendages. The vampire makeup, creepy eyes, monster sinews, and icky skin are well done. Occasionally, creatures scaling the wall and speedy, en masse action is noticeable CGI, but the worms, tentacles, and splatter upset the body sacred. Sickly green lighting invokes the zombie plague mood while choice red adds vampire touches alongside silver grenades, ultraviolet light, and ancient texts. Sadly, Season Three opens with an unrealistic announcement that it’s only been twenty-three days since the outbreak started. The uneven pace makes such time impossible to believe, and tricked out infrared military are just now arriving three weeks into the disaster. Mass manufacture of The Strain’s bio-weapon is also never mentioned again as the science is now nothing more than a home chemistry set. Instead, step by step time is taken to siphon gas in a dark, dangerous parking garage – which could be realistic except The Strain has never otherwise addressed food, supplies, precious toilet paper, or the magically unlimited amount of silver bullets. Once again, everyone who fought together goes on to separate allegiances on top of hear tell global spread, Nazi parallels, control centers, and messianic symbolism. It’s all too clunky thanks to people made stupid and contradictions between the onscreen myths, technology, and abilities. Too many convenient infections, Master transformations, tacked on worms, and excuses happen at once – cheapening Shakespearean touches and monster worm bombs with redundant failures. Montages wax on human history while voiceovers tell audiences about government collapse, glossing over arguably the most interesting part of the catastrophe for drawn-out experiments on microwaves. There’s no narrative flow as the episodes run out but suddenly everyone is sober enough to use the ancient guidebook to their advantage. After such insistence over sunlight and ultraviolet, those safeguards are inexplicably absent when needed. No one maximizes resources and opportunities in “Battle for Central Park,” and people only come together because they accidentally bump into each other. In “The Fall,” a carefully orchestrated trap and prison plan is finally put into action against The Master, but ridiculous contrivances stall the operation before easy outs and one little effing asshole moron ruining it all. Again.
The cast is not at fault for the uneven developments on The Strain, but if Ephraim Goodweather is only there to be a drunken bad parent failing at every turn, he should have been written off the show. If we’re sticking with Eph and his angst before science, then his pointless strigoi wife and terrible son Zach should have been tossed instead of hogging the screen. Cranky, obnoxious, budding sociopath Zach’s “Why? No! Don’t!” lack of comprehension is unrealistic for his age, and everything has to be dumbed downed to appease him. Onscreen The Strain is continually talking down to viewers like we are five and it gets old very fast. Previously compassionate characters are reset as cold marksmen, and Eph claims he no longer cares about the cause when he was once at its epicenter. He complains he has nothing to do, bemoaning the lack of a feasible vaccine before gaining government support in creating a strigoi bio-weapon only to ditch it for microwaves and vampire telepathy. Zach ruins each plan anyway, and by the end of Season Two, I was fast forwarding over the Goodweather family plots. Nora Martinez is also nonexistent as a doctor unless convenient, relegated instead to babysitting, and Samantha Mathis’ (Little Women) Justine Feraldo likewise starts off brassy before unnecessarily overplaying her hand and failing bitterly because of others. Initially The Strain had such a diverse ensemble, but by the end of the Third Season, all the worst things have happened to the women and minorities. Ruta Gedmintas’ Dutch wavers from the cause for a conflicted lesbian romance that disappears before she returns to the fold as Eph’s tantalizing research assistant when she’s not being captured and rescued. I won’t lie, I only hung on watching The Strain as long as I did for Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) as the thousand year old hybrid Quinlan. He uses his conflicted history with The Master to help Setrakian and sees through Ephraim while developing a distrustful shoulder to shoulder with Fet. Unfortunately, his vampire super powers come in handy unless he’s forgotten about when it’s time for the action to sour or let failures happen, and nobody tells officials about this almost invincible half-strigoi who could be useful in a fight. Setrakian, Quinlan, and Fet make for an ornery, begrudging trio, living in a luxury hotel while pursuing Abraham’s relics whether they agree with the plan or not – mostly because Fet accrues all manor of weapons and is happy to use them. Setrakian has some crusty wisdom for them, but his battle of wits with Jonathan Hyde as the at any price Palmer provides great one on one scene chewing. The double crosses and interchangeable threats feel empty, and Palmer also has an odd romantic side plot that wastes time, but Richard Sammel’s Nazi vampire Eicchorst remains a deliciously twisted minion. “Dead End” and “Do or Die” reveal more personal history as the mature players provide intriguing questions on immortality, humanity, and barbarism. Miguel Gomez’ Gus finally seems like he is going to join the team, but then he’s inexplicably back on his own rescuing families and refusing to accept his mother’s turn in more useless filler. He and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace) as the absolutely underutilized fifties superhero Angel are conscripted to fight vampires but once again, they remain wasted in isolated, contrived detours.
Streamlining Fet, Dutch, Quinlan, and Gus as vampire fighters testing methods from Setrakian’s texts and Eph’s science funded by Feraldo could have unified The Strain with straightforward heroes versus monsters action we can root for in an apocalypse. Watching on the eve of our own real world pandemic, was I in the right frame of mind to view The Strain unclouded? Thanks to creators Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse’s foretelling social breakdowns between the haves and the have nots, maybe not. That said, The Strain terribly executes two seasons worth of source material. An embarrassment of riches with a scientific premise, mystical flashbacks, assorted zombie and vampire crossover monsters, and intriguing characters fall prey to uneven pacing, crowded focus, and no balance or self-awareness onscreen. The Strain may have been better served as television movies or six episode elemental seasons – science in year one, vampire history the second, relic pursuits, and a final battle. Disastrous characters and worthless stories compromise the meaty sacrifices, crusty old alliances, and silver standoffs – stretching the horror quality thin even in a shorter ten episode season. Rather than a fulfilling mirror to nature parable, The Strain Seasons Two and Three are an exercise in frustration, and even without the real world horrors, it’s too disappointing to bother with the end of the world reset in Season Four.
For More Frightening Television or more Guillermo del Toro, Re-visit:
Ahead of you lie 31 days of co-workers offering fudge, your Grandmother sending packages of cookies, and banks and dry cleaners placing containers of candy canes at the service desk!
The holidays of this month are so closely connected to food, that we at HorrorAddicts.net have decided to offer some relief in the form of foods of another nature. Foods more suited to the Horror seeking palate.
We hereby declare December 2020 to be Freaky Foodie’s Month. Please join us for some scary, spooky and gut-grabbing delicacies. Happy horrordays!
Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My! By Kristin Battestella
The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.
Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences.
The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.
The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.
The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here. Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.
The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night! Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy. Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie. There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing. Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating. For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt.
I would encourage the populace, if possible, to at least take a look at the recent Netflix series, Ratched. It will help if you’re familiar with the 1975 film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the one that took home a slew of Oscars for that year, the one in which the television series’ title character was the villain, but that’s not essential. Ratched is a beautifully mounted, albeit severely flawed work, and worth seeing if only for the sumptuous set design. Indeed, every frame looks like a photograph from a 1947 issue of Architectural Digest or some similar slick magazine of its type. The costumes could be out of Vanity Fair, the automobiles from Road & Track. It is gorgeous in its every visual element and blessed with a slightly languid pace that allows the eye to gorge itself at leisure on all that gorgeosity.
While I have several issues with the writing (cardboard and occasionally inconsistent characters, cliched situations, predictable plot points), I cannot fault the technical prowess of those who designed the visuals, or, indeed, the audio. The incidental music is eerily reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s score from the 1962 film, Cape Fear, as well as Elmer Bernstein’s score for the 1991 remake. One day, I will discuss both film versions of that story in this space, and the music from each, but today I want to talk about the title music from Ratched, for it touches upon one of my passions.
Yes, I am a Baby Boomer, a member of that much maligned, fairly or unfairly, generation that for all its flaws did indeed spawn the best popular music of the past century. And, yes, I grew up a fan of, among others, the Beatles, the band whose massive output of incredible music in the space of less than a decade was not only the ne plus ultra of its time but the sine qua non of all popular music since. But they and the rest of the 1960s artists were not my first musical love.
That would be classical music. Before the Fab Four showed up on the Ed Sullivan Show on that momentous night in February of 1964, I had already begun to sample my father’s record collection. The first piece of music I remember being enraptured by was Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges. I had no idea at the time what that title meant, for although I was able to operate a turntable at that early age, I had not yet learned to read beyond a very superficial level. In fact, I suspect that it was to decipher the tiny print on the back of all those record sleeves that I set about becoming literate so assiduously at such a tender age.
I still love classical music. It occupies a significant portion of my listening time. I don’t know squat about music theory, but I know what I like. And in the years since I discovered the wonders on those ancient LPs, most of which are now in my possession, new discoveries of what I like have regularly occurred with delightful frequency.
I think I must have been about thirteen or fourteen when I first encountered the work of Camille Saint-Saëns, or, rather, a portion of one of his works. A radio station in or near Nashville began to broadcast episodes of the Shadow radio show from the late 1930s, the ones starring Orson Welles. The theme music was eerie and compelling, drawing the listener into the outré adventures of He Who Had the Power to Cloud Men’s Minds. No one I knew could tell me what that strange tune was. Fortunately, this was in the early years of a new cultural phenomenon, nostalgia, and every trip to the bookstore revealed a new volume on some aspect of the cultural ephemera of past decades, including radio. I knew of radio solely as a delivery system for current music, but as my dad told me at the time, it was in his youth the primary source of free entertainment in the home – musical, comedic, dramatic. Frightening.
More on that later. I think it was in a paperback edition of Jim Harmon’s 1967 book, The Great Radio Heroes, that I learned the provenance of that snippet of strange music. It turned out to be the middle section of a symphonic poem by Saint-Saëns, Omphale’s Spinning Wheel. Once I knew that, I began to search for more music by this new composer I’d discovered.
Skip years, indeed, decades ahead, and I’d just settled myself into my favorite spot on the couch to watch the first episode of Ratched. At that moment, my wife of nearly forty years came in, and I surrendered that spot, because when Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s okay. The seat I gave up is slightly off-center to the TV mounted on the wall opposite, and the spot I almost always wind up in has a more straight-on view. Yeah. That’s the ticket.
For some reason, the subtitle function was turned on, which was fine. I watch a lot of films in languages I don’t understand, and I heartily despise dubbing. Nothing ruins the rhythm of a film than the dialogue being out of sync with the actors’ expressions and mouth movements. Give me subtitles, every time. So, I’m used to them, and made no particular effort to turn them off.
No issues with the first episode, although my lovely bride thought it moved a tad slowly. There was no title sequence that time out, the credits rolling at the end. And for just over five minutes, there was no such thing in the second episode.
And then, there was. I immediately recognized the music playing, although the first bit of it had been lopped off. It was Saint-Saëns’ 1874 tone poem Danse Macabre, a piece I play heavily around Halloween, for it is spooky and creepy and laden with dire forebodings.
And then, I noticed the subtitle that popped up as soon as the discordant violin screeched out its first few notes.[haunting classical music playing]
Say, what? Haunting classical music? Haunting classical music?!?!?!? Does no one at Netflix have access to a decent music library? This piece has a name, a title that has been well-known for one hundred and forty-six years. That’s as bad as people calling the tango Al Pacino danced with Gabrielle Anwar in Scent of a Woman ‘the tango from Scent of a Woman’, as if that’s its title. It’s not. It’s called Por Una Cabeza, and it’s by Carlos Gardel, a significant composer of Latin music in the first half of the 20th Century. It’s not quite as bad as pronouncing Porsche as a one-syllable name, but still, come on! Is it all that much trouble to identify a major piece of music by its actual name?
Ahem. Sorry ‘bout that.
Danse Macabre was based on a Late Medieval allegorical theme of death as the one truly universal reality, and its application in a variety of artistic expressions. Paintings, frescoes and woodcuts depicting souls of all financial stations and every societal stratum dancing their ways along to the grave accompanied by decomposing corpses and animated skeletons were all the rage in the waning decades of the Middle Ages, and into the Renaissance.
I know most folks think of the term ‘classical music’ as encompassing all that stuff you had to sit through during school field trips to the local symphony hall, but for the cognoscenti, classical refers to the music of roughly the 18th Century, composed by folks like Mozart and Haydn in an organically structured and sometimes excessively ornamental style that reflected the artistic sensibilities of the concurrent Rococo period in art and architecture. During the preceding century, more-or-less, both art and architecture on one hand and music on the other were done in what was known as Baroque style, which was also overly ornamented but with a somewhat more constrained, almost geometrical structure. Kind of. That’s very much a Reader’s Digest Condensed version of things, but not, I hope, totally off the mark.
The 19th Century in music was dominated by the Romantic period, and Saint-Saëns was very much a Romantic composer. That word does not mean, as applied to the music of its time, what you think it does, just as an opera comique is not necessarily funny. Romantic in relation to the music of composers from Schubert and Beethoven in the early 19th Century to Dvorak and Verdi near the end of the century, and even beyond with Rachmaninoff and Ravel, was intended to produce within the listener a sort of naturalistic evocation of emotions, so that the music inspired more than merely an aesthetic response. It is no accident that the Romantic period in music coincided in its later decades with Impressionism in painting. The intended reaction from the consumer was the same in both areas, an empathic connection with the artist through the medium.
And Danse Macabre did produce an emotional reaction from early critics, indeed. It was not received well at first, as it was considered to be a source of anxiety for those who heard it. As I stated before, I know little about music theory, but I have been given to understand that there are certain key signatures that lend themselves particularly well to certain types of music, and even the emotions those pieces are meant to convey. According to what I have read on the subject, G Minor is one of those keys that tends to invoke dread and angst, and Danse Macabre is in that key. I’m going to go ahead and assume my informant was correct, for it does put the nerves on edge.
Listen to it throughout that title sequence in Ratched, when and if you’re able to watch it, and see if it doesn’t augment the show’s overall feeling of fearful expectation, even more so perhaps than the story warrants. Then, listen to it in its entirety.
Then, please don’t tell me you felt nothing from that – no frisson, as it were. I hope you do. I might just worry about you if not, just a little.
Also, rest assured I won’t leave you hanging regarding all the possibly unfamiliar references above. I will, one of these days, wax poetic on horror as it was used in old time radio programs and operas, comique and otherwise, as well as by other composers, artists, and even architects. I might even explain just what is meant by a ‘slick magazine’, translate the Latin phrases I love tossing around like confetti, and reveal from what major genre work I lifted the neologism ‘gorgeosity’. Stay tuned.
On the weekend of November 8, 2020, the legendary Foo Fighters took the stage on Saturday Night Live and played a song from their upcoming album, Medicine at Midnight, called “Shame Shame.” It was different and brilliant and a little bit dark, including lyrics like:
“If you want to
I’ll be the one
Be the tongue that will swallow you”
“Another splinter under the skin
Another season of loneliness
I found a reason and buried it
Beneath a mountain of emptiness.”
The song was definitely a departure for the band and I was anxious to read all I could about the production. Grohl has always been very open about his recording process. He boldly created the documentary Sound City, which I highly recommend, as well as taking the journey on the Sonic Highways, where the band visited some of the biggest cities in rock music history and wrote songs based on their experiences and interviews they had there. In an article with Rolling Stone dated March 23, 2020, Dave Grohl revealed that the house they recorded the album in was haunted and that totally piqued my interest. (https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/foo-fighters-new-album-ghosts-971615/)
What is it with amazing things coming from supernatural experiences? Some of my favorite albums have been recorded under haunting situations including Black Sabbath’s debut, Blood Sugar Sex Magic from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hypnotize/Mesmerize by System of A Down, and Slipknot’s Vol. 3: The Subliminal Verses, the latter three being recorded at Rick Rubin’s Mansion in Southern California. How did being in a haunted space contribute to the artists’ creative process? (https://www.kerrang.com/features/10-rock-and-metal-albums-recorded-in-haunted-places/)
Corey Taylor discussed his experiences in The Mansion in his book A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven, which is full of incredible stories and Taylor’s philosophy about the afterlife and things that go bump, well, at all times of the day. From his perspective, it seems that the hauntings kept him on edge, which may or may not have contributed to his manic performance on Slipknot’s Subliminal Verses. He said in an interview with Kerrang! Magazine in 2019, “Only recently have I noticed the ethereal feel to the album,” Corey said on the eve of Vol. 3’s release. “And that’s definitely come from making it in that house. That house was so fucking haunted.” (https://www.kerrang.com/features/slipknot-the-inside-story-of-vol-3-the-subliminal-verses/)
Over the past several years, I’ve had the fortune to attend writing retreats with my fellow San Francisco Bay Area authors. The first one was at the Holbrooke Hotel in Grass Valley, California, and I immediately fell in love with the grand old building which boasted that it housed the longest continuously-open saloon west of the Mississippi (which it likely can’t say anymore since the hotel has been closed the past two years for renovations). It’s a place with an incredible amount of energy, mostly positive, and during the retreats we held there, I was inspired to write some of my favorite stories. “A Piece of Him,” which was featured in the Gone with the Dead anthology back in 2016 is still one of my favorite short stories I’ve written and was my first traditionally published story. I wrote some of my Banes of Lake’s Crossing stories there and the hotel has even been a setting in my writing. I love working in old buildings. The Weller House in Fort Bragg is another favorite as well as the Jupiter in Berkeley and a friend’s turn-of-the-century house outside Portland, Oregon. There’s something about working in a place that has held within its walls all walks of life that causes its very fabric to hold onto that energy, both positive and negative, that gives me a supercharge of creativity like nothing else. I so look forward to being able to travel to my favorite haunts when this pandemic is over.
So if you’re missing that feeling of someone looking over your shoulder as you work, or want to listen to music closely for any signs of ghostly hijinks, check out the albums listed above, and if you’re like me and love a good “behind the music” type of story, be sure to watch those docs listed above as well as read Corey Taylor’s book.
How about you? Does a good haunted spot bring out the creativity in you? I’d love to hear about your favorite places and projects you’ve been inspired to work on there. Definitely check out the albums listed above as well as the two Foo Fighters documentaries. And as always, stay tuned for more Ro’s Recs and Merrill’s Musical Musings…
R.L. Merrill writes inclusive romance with quirky, relatable characters full of love, hope, and rock ‘n’ roll. You can find her at https://www.rlmerrillauthor.com and on the socials as @rlmerrillauthor.
Plotline: Ivy and Echo are not your typical mother-daughter team. Ivy, once an intuitive psychic, makes an easy buck as a bogus tarot card reader; 14-year-old Echo likes old-timey music, hunting, and black lipstick. When reclusive Kurt moves down the road to restore an abandoned farmhouse, an accident leads to Echo’s murder, and suddenly three lives collide in mysterious and wicked ways. Kurt assumes he can hide his secret under the ground. But Echo burrows into his head until he can feel her in his bones. As she haunts his every move, trying to reach her mother from beyond, Ivy must dig deep to see the signs and prove that love won’t stay buried.
Who would like it: Fans of mind-bending atmospheric films, witches, tarot cards, mother and daughter movies, revenge, and movies about possessions.
High Points: The sheer originality!
Overall: Love this shit out of this!
Where I watched it: VOD
Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains. Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.
When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net
She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.
Where Are All the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films by Kristin Battestella
From The Witch’s Mirrorto The Curse of the Crying Woman and more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mid-century Mexican horror productions I’ve seen from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I would wholeheartedly like to see more, but where did all these Mexican horror movies go? Read on for my rant about the frustrating difficulty in finding these quality classic scares.
Why so inaccessible?
Thanks to directors such as Rafael Baledón or the likes of Abel Salazar’s filmography, one can filter, search, and find dozens of Mexican horror films on IMDb, Wikipedia, and more. We know they exist, so where are they and why aren’t they readily available? Ten or fifteen years ago, a budget DVD set with twenty or fifty so-called horror classics was a get what you pay for way to find a few old horror gems amid the so bad it’s good obscure, public domain scares, and cheap VHS quality rips. This was how I first found some Spanish horror delectables. Today, however, those sets aren’t really viable compared to affordable streaming options. Unfortunately, be it the free horror channels, discount streaming tiers, or the big mainstream options, none of them have any of these films. Back when we had Xfinity and could browse all the thousand channels on the guide including the Spanish cable package, I used to see some great horror films listed on the Peliculas de clasicos channels. I’d write down great titles like Museo de Horror, El Beso de Ultratrumbo, La Cabeza Viviente, and more but can’t find any of them anywhere. How with today’s instant access to everything are these films still so inaccessible?
Cultural Drift is No Excuse!
It takes a lot of digging and research to find these titles, and although it’s easy to search with Spanish language filters, that creates its own set of problems. Sure I’ve been able to find a few Salazar sixties horrors or Mexican movies, but those searches also yield a lot of Paul Naschy pictures from Spain (and searching for his Waldermar werewolf films is another aggravating not all available pursuit). Soon, these lists skew to Spain, European productions, Jesus Franco, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava. Seventies Italian Giallo pictures are not what we’re looking for, and finding the right version of a film with different releases, run times, and different titles per country only adds more fuel to the frustrating fuego. Sometimes you think you are getting the right movie and it turns out to be something else, or worse a film you’ve already seen under a different name. I myself am guilty of putting all my Spanish horror viewing lists and recommendations together because it’s so tough to find just the Mexican scares. Of course, Spain and Mexico are different cultures with different español and different identities, and it’s problematic to presume they are interchangeable. Many years ago I had a vehement argument on an online film forum when a commenter said he wanted a role to be cast with Penélope Cruz or Salma Hayek or “one of those types.” This person could not see why I objected to these actresses being lumped together as one and the same. On a non-horror note, I highly suggest the Maya Exploration Center’s Professor Edwin Barnhart’s Great Course lectures including Ancient Civilizations of North America, Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, Lost Worlds of South America, and Exploring the Mayan World to educate oneself on the history of Southwest, Central, and South American communities.
The Classics are Better.
What irritates me most is the perception that because Hollywood or mainstream horror is more prevalent, that means it must be better. In my recent viewings, however, that’s been far from the truth. I’ve enjoyed the majority of independent Australian, New Zealand, Irish, UK horror, and European productions, sure. Canadian pictures, on the other hand, have been more mixed bag. When the festival finds are true to themselves, they’ve been good – but you can tell the difference when a north of the border production is compromising itself in hopes of an American sale and wide distribution, catering to the formulaic and cliché. I had such high hopes for The Curse of La Llorona. It starts well with colonial Mexican scares so viewers think we’re in for some period piece Hammer flair, but sadly the film – written and directed by white men, because of course – degrades into the typical kids in peril with whooshing entities and trite jump scares. Cultural fears are dismissed and protective warnings are treated like Mysticism 101, and the entire time I was waiting for it to end, I had one thought, which was that The Curse of the Crying Woman was better. There’s an entire Wikipedia page called “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” but where are all the films? Netflix if you’re lucky has one DVD copy, and when that breaks, it’s just saves and unavailables.
It’s Frustrating and Offensive.
For viewer looking for quality horror of any kind, it’s disturbing how unique storytelling, different cultural scares, and the many horror stories to be told must be bent to serve white mainstream horror. The fact that these films are not widely available almost feels like an intentional burying – the way a great Asian horror film won’t see the light of day stateside because the rights were bought up and it is being deliberately suppressed until the rich white blonde jump scare cliché remake is released first. Why aren’t these classic, quality films being celebrated? Why are they not freely available to watch at any time? A black and white picture? So what! Spanish subtitles or a bad English dub? Big deal! Is it because they are not in English that white America suspects releasing these films properly won’t be profitable enough for them? Well that’s just too damn bad because I want to see these films. Do you have an inside source on where to find some classic mid-century Mexican horror movies? ¡Damelo!
Recently, I was browsing on Stuart Conover’s site, The Horror Tree, and I saw an interview with a publisher who got his start with a Punk magazine. While he’s branched out to the realm of fiction, the punk sensibility has never left him. Indeed, “punk” is the second adjective in the list of qualities he’s looking for in prospective stories. For those who have been a part of that scene, the punk sensibility remains an enduring part of their character.
It’s a sensibility that resonates with many writers, as attested by the gamut of subgenres from Splatterpunk to Steampunk. It’s not one that resonates with me, however. I identify with a competing scene, Heavy Metal, and have done since I was in high school. Superficially, there are certain similarities: music that is played loud and features distorted guitars, and wardrobes that boast a lot of black T-shirts, but there aren’t too many common threads beyond these.
As art forms, Punk and Metal are created very differently. In Punk, the medium is secondary to the message, and Punk Rock songs tend to be fast, energetic, and haphazard. The band is reminding you that they don’t take anything seriously, including themselves and their music. Metal bands are quite different; they may take nothing else in the world seriously, but they are fiercely earnest in their dedication to their craft. They are perfectionists in their technique, and for those unfamiliar with the genre, surprisingly sophisticated in their composition. Much of the Metal scene has been converging with classical music at least since Randy Rhoads recorded “Blizzard of Ozz” with Ozzy Osbourne in the early eighties. Doubters are urged to listen to string quartet or piano arrangements of Metal songs, such as Apocalyptica’s first two albums.
Both genres relish horror imagery. It just manifests itself differently. Punk horror art takes on a pop culture veneer, almost an Andy Warhol approach. Metal horror art favors the look of medieval woodcuts, Hieronymous Bosch paintings and Grand Guignol-style performance stills. Contrast the imagery of The Misfits and Mercyful Fate, and you’ll see what I mean. Each of these bands exemplifies the horror aesthetics of its team.
We generally don’t hear about a Metal sensibility in horror fiction. We don’t have Occultmetal or Possessionmetal subgenres in the community, but upon examination of my own habits as a writer, I see common threads with the musicians I champion. I share their perfectionist tendencies in terms of technique. Typos and faulty grammar vex me, unless they’re meant to appear in the story as a function of characterization. I was mortified recently when I discovered a continuity error in a story that had reached the final proofing stage. For the most part, I like to think that my stories are in good editorial shape when I present them to editors. Whether or not they resonate with the editor is another matter entirely.
It’s not just about the technique, either. I do take myself and my art seriously. I’d rather give my readers the chills than make them laugh — or score points in an imaginary debate. In terms of horror styles, I have a marked preference for supernatural horror, although this encompasses a number of subcategories, such as Lovecraftian, occult and mythological themes. The same preoccupations reign among many Metal acts, from Scandinavian Black Metal through retro acts like Blood Ceremony and Brimstone Coven. And in execution, I prefer to write my stories in earnest, not with irony. One annoyance I’ve had with the Lovecraftian community is the prevalence of tongue-in-cheek content. Overtly jokey stories and poems only serve to lighten the mood.
Metal and Punk are not the only musical in-groups with substantial linkage to horror. Goth is a third, and it carries its own sensibility to the same literary well. Of the three groups, the Goths probably feel the greatest affection for classic tropes like vampires and ghosts. The differences with Metal are more in the realm of nuance: Metalheads are more likely to present monsters as menacing, and Goths more as misunderstood. Goths are more likely to bask in the melancholy side of the spectrum, and Metalheads incline more to the macabre side. Nor should these three musical genres feel that they control horror imagery in music; other bands have swum the same waters, either intermittently or chronically. Stephen King is famous for interjecting his classic rock obsessions into his fiction.
Herein lies the significance of the exercise. Readers in general, and writers in particular, are likely to discern common threads in the literature that drives them, the films that excite them, and the music that drives them. While the linkage between books and movies is obvious, given the number of stories that came to the screen after success on the page, the relevance of musical taste can be just as significant, at least if the musical interest is a strong one. Horror writers can learn a great deal about themselves and what drives them if they stop to consider their musical tastes and examine their parallels in the fiction they love and the stories they produce.
Michael Fassbender is a part-time writer in the Chicago area. His story “Inmate” appeared in Sanitarium Magazine in 2016; “The Cold Girl” appeared in Hypnos Magazine in 2016 and has resurfaced in October 2019 in a volume entitled Re-Haunts. “But Together We Are Strong” has appeared in the February 2020 issue of Horror Magazine, “Miroir de Vaugnac” found its place in Dark Divinationson May Day, and “Schattenlenker’s Hidden Treasure” was revealed in The Nightside Codex in August. This Halloween, “Old Growth” began spreading in Scary Stuff. You can read about more of his work on his website, michaeltfassbender.com.
L. Marie Wood is an award-winning author and screenwriter. She is the recipient of the Golden Stake Award for her novel The Promise Keeper, as well as the Harold L. Brown Award for her screenplay Home Party. Her short story, “The Ever After” is part of the Bram Stoker Award Finalist anthology Sycorax’s Daughters. Wood was recognized in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Vol. 15 and as one of the 100+ Black Women in Horror Fiction.
L. Marie is a fun and vivacious lady. We spoke of writing, vampires, and The Golden Stake Award.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Lisa! Thank you for joining me today.
LMW: Thank you so much for having me!
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
LMW: Believe it or not I was five years old! I started writing a story and it was just… dark!
I didn’t associate the term “horror” to it, but that’s what it was, it was psychological horror. And I still write in that sub-genre today.
NTK: Was it inspired by a book or a movie? What inspires your writing?
LMW: No—it literally came from out of nowhere, which is actually, how I find inspiration now.
Sometimes an idea for a story just comes to me. Could be something I saw–some detail about how someone was dressed or something they did maybe even the weather or catching a glimpse of someone making a facial expression they don’t realize is being noticed. When I go looking for inspiration, I can’t always find it.
NTK: Who was the first horror character you felt represented you? The one you could identify with the most?
LMW: Interestingly enough, the first character that came to mind isn’t from the horror genre, so I am still thinking about that one (Laughs.)
I identify with the villains and Darth Vader’s cool calmness is just so awesome to me, I’ve always wanted to emulate that.You know… should I have the need to subdue someone… you know what I mean! (Laughs.)
Then I was always partial to Bruce Lee—like I wanted to kick like him and the sound effects—heck yes. So, combine those with my favorite horror antagonist—vampires!!—and you have a really kick-ass villain. I can’t say I’ve seen this character yet… maybe Blade…wait—DEFINITELY Blade! And I have to say that I never realized that I am Blade until JUST NOW. I always saw myself more like Jerry Dandridge.
NTK: Did you see yourself as Chris Sarandon? Or Colin Ferrel?
LMW: Definitely Chris Sarandon. He was sooooo smooth.
So I guess I am the female Blade… I’m going with that. (Laughs.)
NTK: (Laughs.) Do you have a favorite horror movie?
LMW: I do! Angel Heart! Being the psychological horror lover I am, I love a movie that has twists and turns and makes me think. I find something new every time I watch that movie!
NTK: That movie is so awesome and underrated! Did you like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of the Devil?
LMW: I did, even if it was a little ham-handed… Louis Cypher HAHAHA! He looked awesome though, just enough to make sure you know who he was and what was going on, but easy enough to miss if you aren’t trying to focus on the flick.
NTK: Exactly! Do you have a favorite horror television show?
LMW: Horror Tv shows are difficult. I was a Walking Dead Fan for years and then… I mean, ok and…? I loved The Haunting of Hill House and Lovecraft Country but those are just season-long entries. AHS – I’ve really only enjoyed one whole season – the one with Cuba Gooding Jr…Roanoke.
So… I might have to say no…?
But if the stand alone, one season and one shows count, I will definitely say Haunting of Hill House. Creepy as hell, that one.
NTK: What about favorite horror author?
LMW: That is a harder question than you might realize! I adore Ira Levin’s work, the way he spun a yarn was like no one else. Very casual, conversational, it’s like he is sitting with you on a park bench or while waiting in line at the movies and telling you this creepy thing. I find that my own writing is a lot like that—like we’re having a conversation, only what I am saying is scaring the bejesus out of you. Reading his work just feels good to me.
At the same time, I love Stephen King. His ability to make the mundane spooky is so unsettling and I really love that! Finally, Shirley Jackson has psychological horror in her pocket. Her work just creeps up on you and you don’t even know why you are afraid, but you are. Read “The Lottery”… you may find yourself shivering—either because you might be the one to get stoned, or go along with the stoning and not even know why!
So my fave… Shirley Ira King. Hell of a pen name!
NTK: (Laughs.) That would be! Do you have a favorite horror novel?
LMW: I do, and interestingly enough, none of those three wrote it! Quietus by Vivian Schilling. It is so lyrical! I remember thinking that I wished I could write something so tight, so beautifully done. No purple prose. No fluff. Just amazing control and beautiful execution. I fangirled a bit when I read it and contacted her (this is like 2002 or 2003). Had to tell her it was an amazing experience reading her book.
NTK: That is so awesome! What did she say?
LMW: She was so kind. We actually spoke for a while—she was gracious about the compliment I lavished—I can only imagine that she was red-faced… I was laying it on thick because this book is… chef’s kiss!
She encouraged me to write after I told her I was actually writing my novel. Wonder if she ever read it…? Wow, how cool would THAT be??
NTK: That would be mind-blowing! I hope she did. Speaking of your writing, what attracted you to the Vampire Noire? Why did you want to write a story for SLAY?
LMW: I love vampires. Always have been drawn to them as opposed to werewolves or zombies.
I like to tell my stories from the psychological horror perspective, but sometimes the fear isn’t what you were bargaining for. Vampires let you play, they let you experiment, there is such flexibility with them. I guess I couldn’t resist!
NTK: What inspired your story? Was it something that just came to you?
LMW: Yep—always is. A song did it this time—the rhythm… I don’t even think I ever found out what it was… (Laughs.)
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
LMW: My characters do what they want to do when they want to do it. They routinely defy me.
And I can be as upset as I want to about that, but they do not care. I like to say that I sit back and watch the show and just write it all down for posterity.
NTK: As a person of color, how has your experience in the horror community?
LMW: Good, actually. I have been lucky enough to not have experienced a lot of what I have heard about. I started being active in the community in about 2003 and met some wonderful people from everywhere. Had signings, broke bread, shared stages, etc. I took a bit of a break for a number of years and when I came back in, I encountered the same. But as a person of color, I know that my experience isn’t everyone’s and that there have been some challenges that my fellow creatives have encountered. I can only help to be one of those people who helps pave the way, ease the way, help others along.
NTK: You’ve won some interesting awards. Could you tell us about the Golden Stake and about the UMMFF award for The Black Hole?
LMW: Ahh the Golden Stake Award! Seriously, I love that thing, it is literally a golden stake with blood on the tip!!!!! I wouldn’t even bring it back with me—left it in London to be shipped over so that they didn’t take it from me in customs, because, seriously, how could I have explained it?? (Laughs.)
My second novel, The Promise Keeper, is a psychological vampire horror tale! I must say, it felt AMAZING to go over to London during the 200 year anniversary of the publishing of The Vampyre by John Polidori and WIN this coveted award! We drank cocktails out of syringes later that night—it was a freaking blast!
As to The Black Hole, it is a very timely screenplay about colleagues who compete with each other on the paintball field along with a group of their friends. And let’s just say this… all is fun and games until the paintballs fly. My undergraduate degree from Howard University is actually in Film Production. Years later, I went on to get an MA in English and Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University that has a focus in Screenwriting. It is my second love and I am back to doing it with a vengeance. This particular screenplay won best Afrofuturism/Horror/Sci-Fi Screenplay at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival.
NTK: Awesome!! You have a novel coming out on October 29th. Could you tell us about it?
LMW: Yes, absolutely! My third novel, The Realm, is about man’s greatest fear and it starts FAST!
There is much running, many things lurking in the shadows, and pure, unadulterated fear waiting for the protagonist and for you, if you dare to read it! This is book one of a series that will keep you on the edge of your seat!
NTK: L. Marie, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
LMW: This year I have been lucky enough to be either an official selection, semi-finalist, or finalist in over fifteen other festivals! I have eight screenplays making their rounds out there—and I am so excited to see that each of them have gotten industry nods!
NTK: Thank you for joining me today, L. Marie! It’s been a pleasure!
LMW: Thank you so much for having me! I enjoyed the discussion!
Addicts, you can find L. Marie on Facebook. Check out her book, The Realm, available now.
“The Realm drops you into a bizarre and disturbing vision of the afterlife where the dead will never rest in peace. L. Marie Wood’s compulsively readable and fast-paced tale grabs you and doesn’t let go. Hang on tight!”
– Kirsten Imani Kasai, Author of The House of Erzulie
In The Realm, L. Marie Wood presents readers with a cast of nuanced characters against the backdrop of an intricate world where nothing is simply black and white or right and wrong. The “sins of the father” takes a refreshing detour from triteness and makes us accomplices to the main character’s ( Patrick’s) endeavors.
E.M. Markoff is the indie award-winning Latinx author of The Deadbringer and To Nurture & Kill.Growing up, she spent many days exploring her hometown cemetery, where her love of all things dark began. Upon coming of age, she decided to pursue a career as a microbiologist, where she spent a few years channeling her inner mad scientist. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat E.M.! Thank you for joining me today.
EM: Evening, Naching! Thank you for having me.
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
EM: Pretty young–in elementary school! Despite not knowing English, my mom was a fan of the Hammer Horror films and Vincent Price, and she was the one who first introduced me to the genre. She also never limited my reading, which allowed me to discover Stephen King at a pretty young age as well. I have no doubt all of this consciously and subconsciously helped shape my love of horror and “dark” things.
NTK: Did Stephen King influence your writing? Who influenced you the most?
EM: I have no doubt Stephen King influenced my writing, as he was the reason I fell in love with reading, to begin with. The vivid image of the monkey with the cymbals on the cover of Skeleton Crew is the first real memory I have of a light going off in my head and thinking, “Reading is amazing.” Other authors whose words have no doubt inspired me include Neil Gaiman with The Sandman series, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, C.S. Friedman, Carlos Fuentes, Junji Ito . . . the list goes on.
NTK: Where do you find inspiration? Do you find it in everyday life? In dreams? What inspired The Deadbringer?
EM: The heart of my inspiration for all my writing comes from my identity as a Mexican-American, which was passed on to me by my mom. All of my works, whether overtly or not, reference my culture. I do, however, sometimes get ideas in dreams. The first section of the chapter entitled “A Memory Dissolved by Pain” originated from a dream. I had been working on that section, with little progress, when it suddenly came to me. Consequently, the chapter title got its name because dreaming the dream and writing it was very emotionally difficult. I don’t like hurting my characters, so I tend to get pretty bummed out when something bad happens to them. The other major influence on The Deadbringer was the end of my mom’s life. The decisions that you have to make are painful, and that pain wound up carrying over to the characters that were also suffering a loss.
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
EM: My characters are assholes with too much agency! (Laughs.) My editor says I like to “play house” with my characters, so to a certain extent, they have to do what I say. But–like life–sometimes they refuse to cooperate until I figure out exactly what it is that’s just not falling into place. I had this happen with a character who is unexpectedly getting their own POV in the forthcoming second book in The Ellderet Series, The Faceless God.
NTK: Your style is very distinct, almost Gothic. Do you enjoy Gothic horror?
EM: Thank you for those kind words. You just made my evening. Yes, I do love Gothic horror and have no doubt that it has found its way into my writing, although I know I have a long way to go before I can hold a candle to the masters of the style!
NTK: You mentioned your mother’s love of Hammer films. Are they your favorite too? What is your favorite horror movie?
EM: It’s impossible not to love Hammer Horror films. Their films, in particular, all the Draculas because of the dynamic duo of Lee and Cushing, will always have a special place in my heart. My fave, however, is The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
NTK: Favorite horror Novel?
EM: The Picture of Dorian Gray.
NTK: Favorite horror TV show?
NTK: E.M., what does the future hold for you? What do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
E.M. More immediately, I will be at a number of conventions, including one with HorrorAddicts.net at Sinister Creature Con from October 12-13. My future plans involve publishing The Faceless God, the sequel to The Deadbringer, in 2020, as well as attending plenty of local Bay Area conventions and (hopefully) readings. I also have planned a standalone novella that focuses on two of the characters from the world of the Ellderet, and I have a few ideas for non-Ellderet short stories that I would like to see come to life. You can follow what I’m up to by signing up for my Newsletter of the Cursed. You can also follow me @tomesandcoffee on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, or buy my works on Amazon or direct from me. As for my work as a publisher, readers can check out the horror charity anthology Tales for the Camp Fire, which includes a short diverse ghost story of mine — “Leaving the #9.” All profits from the charity anthology will be donated to Camp Fire relief and recovery efforts which will be administered by the North Valley Community Foundation.
NTK: I just interviewed Loren Rhoads about Tales for the Camp Fire. What a great idea! How did you come up with it?
EM: It began as an idea by Ben Monroe, a fellow member of the Bay Area Horror Writers Association. The idea brought together horror writers from the Bay Area with the goal of giving back to the victims of a terrible NorCal wildfire – the Camp Fire. Loren Rhoads served as editor, curating an eclectic range of short stories that showcase the many faces of horror, including a story graciously donated by the estate of Clark Ashton Smith. The entire project is indebted to people who volunteered their time to put in the work necessary to bring it to life, thus keeping production costs low and maximizing profits for charity. Even now, the authors are continuing to do what they can to spread the word about the charity anthology because they want to give back to the community. I think it says a lot about horror writers, that in the face of tragedy they stepped up to help.
NTK: Awesome! Horror Writers are such great people! Thank you so much for chatting with me. E.M!
EM: Thank you for having me, and for the lovely interview, Naching. It was my pleasure.
The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.
On a regular basis when we were kids, my brother and I were shipped off from Nashville to visit our grandmothers and cousins for a few weeks every summer so our parents could get a well-deserved rest from our shenanigans. Today, I suspect that would be considered child abuse at best, given that we were ferried by either car or train to a small town in Northern Alabama in the days before the pervasive hum and whir of air conditioning could be heard everywhere.
The funny thing is, I don’t remember the heat being all that oppressive. There were lots of electric fans, and open windows, and sleeping in upstairs bedrooms under thin sheets, while the distant sound of a train whistle carried us away with it into slumberland after long discussions about girls and Auburn football and whether or not it were possible to tip one of my uncle’s Black Angus bulls. It’s not, by the way, and given how much at least one of them resented the attempt, it’s a wonder any of us are still alive.
Even better, for the voracious consumer of popular culture that I was even at the tender age of eleven, was that a marvelous new invention did arrive in Athens about 1969, one that would not make it to Nashville for another sixteen years. Nowadays, cable television is almost quaint, but in those halcyon days of three channels, it was a magic carpet ride that carried me for that brief, hot period beyond the Lawrence Welk schmaltz and Mike Douglas talking about God knows what with people you’d never heard of and soap operas that for some reason didn’t feature vampires, and all the other adult programming that pervaded the local airwaves of the tiny town to which we were remanded into durance vile for those few weeks.
I’m exaggerating, of course. We had lots of fun with the cousins, and occasionally with the kids who went to the Baptist and Methodist churches in which our grandmothers were virtually matriarchic figures. But there are times when you just want to turn on the TV, and it was in Athens that I first encountered What Lay Beyond.
Athens is about halfway between Nashville to the north and Birmingham to the south, and twenty miles west of Huntsville, which at the time had, I believe, one television station. If the weather conditions were just right, you could almost pick up a Nashville station and maybe two Birmingham stations, but you couldn’t count on it. Which is exactly why the first rudimentary cable system I encountered was in tiny Athens. Its original purpose was apparently to bring those distant network affiliates (and their commercials) out into the hinterlands.
I have no idea at this late date which of the ten buttons on my grandmother’s cable box I pressed to find the old horror pictures I was already enamored of, but I sure figured it out at the time. A few days into our enforced vacation, I had started missing the daily after-school movie, the Big Show on Channel Five from which I normally got my fix. When I discovered something close enough to it to serve in a pinch, I latched on to it. I remember seeing old-time movie star Jon Hall stomping around in a rubber suit in Monster in the Surf for the first time on whatever channel it was, along with the big-headed BEMs from Invasion of the Saucer Men and a string of pictures that were rather clumsily dubbed into English and with the credits in Spanish.
I had never seen Mexican horror movies before. The Big Show was full of Universal monsters and Hammer horrors and Japanese behemoths stomping model cities flat, but nothing like this new thing I’d found. I don’t recall any specific titles from that summer more than fifty years ago, but I do remember that they were fun, and spooky, and some of them starred masked wrestlers. I was a big fan at that age of the local wrestlers who popped up on TV back home, Jacky Fargo and Tojo Yamamoto and that crowd, so I gleefully absorbed the adventures of Santo and the Blue Devil as they battled a variety of monsters and mad scientists that summer, while my grandmother was off working at the local newspaper where she was the society editor. I’m sure she would have disapproved, had she known.
But isn’t that the best part?
The Mexican horror movies weren’t there on her cable box the next time I visited Athens. It was years before I saw any of them again. It took the internet to bring them back into view, and while I understand the draw those specific films must have had on my eleven year old mind, this much older geezer is looking for something a little more sophisticated. And, just as one should never judge classic North American films by, say, the Bowery Boys, one should look for a higher level of fright-inducing Mexican cinematics with an expectation that one would find it.
I will admit that, despite my early exposure to Mexican films, I am not yet as conversant with the national oeuvre as I am with, say, French or Japanese filmmaking. I suppose it does take a while to get all the way around the world and back close to home again in exploring world cinema, even with the wonders available online. I am of course familiar with the great films made by Spanish ex-patriot Luis Buñuel during his time in Mexico from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. The Exterminating Angel is the closest I can think of to Buñuel having made a genre film, but I’m not really sure it can be classified as a horror film. I might take a gander at it in this space down the road, anyhow, but for now, let’s look, as we would pretty much have to in regards to North American horror films, at the middle range of overall cinematic quality.
And there it is that we find a number of quite good Mexican horror films in the early 1960s, on a level with anything being done in the genre by Hollywood filmmakers such as Roger Corman or William Castle, if not, in some cases, better. (Notice how nimbly I wriggled out of including Psycho in that category? Hitchcock was a director on a par with Buñuel, and like the Spaniard, not really a horror director, per se, no matter how he might have dabbled in its pleasures.)
I will speak in future of Messers Corman and Castle. For now, let’s speak of la Llorona.
The Weeping Woman, in English. An old Mexican folktale about an abandoned mother who avenges the betrayal of her unfaithful husband/lover by murdering their children. She regrets her act when denied entry into Heaven, and is fated to roam the Earth in search of her dead children. Since they are beyond her reach, she seeks to replace them with the children of other mothers, with dire results all around. It’s one of those cautionary tales meant to keep the younguns of Mesoamerica in line. I have no data as to how well it works. What I do have is some Mexican-made films I want to have us all take a look at.
I’m not in this instance concerned with the numerous recent North American and Mesoamerican cinematic examinations, of varying quality, of the ancient legend. And by recent, I should point out that I mean anything since about 1980. When you get to my age, that’s when the cut-off date between old and new falls. Hell, I’m so old, cougars are barely legal.
Can I get a rimshot? No? Oh, well. Never mind.
I want to examine in this space three of the earliest films that were constructed around this legend – 1933’s La Llorona, 1960’s La Llorona, and 1963’s The Curse of the Crying Woman. There is one from 1947 I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy of yet, La Herencia de la Llorona, but I hope to correct that oversight in the very near future. I expect I’ll address that one in a coda to a future column if you would all be so kind as to be patient with an auld phart.
The first la Llorona film, indeed the first Mexican horror film, was directed by Ramón Peón, one of roughly seventy films he made over a long career. La Llorona is not a bad film, but production-wise, about on a par with one of the better Hollywood Poverty Row studio films of its period. Some of this impression could be a simple lack of a good, restored copy, given that I’ve only been able to find a rather fuzzy presentation on YouTube, along with poorly synced subtitles to match. Maybe. The running time, like many of the la Llorona films of all periods, is taken up with an extensive flashback of the original legend as it unfolded in the late 16th Century. There is a second flashback to an even earlier, similar legend, that of la Malinche. She was the Aztec translator for and lover of Hernando Cortez, who also responded to being treated shabbily by killing the children she had borne the Conquistador almost a century before la Llorona began to weep. I’m not sure that segment adds to the overall quality of the film, but it does have some interest as a historical artifact. None of the other pictures I looked at for this column featured that older tale.
I think I might have just noticed a few eyes glaze over there a moment ago when I mentioned Poverty Row. My wife has been complaining for forty years now that I tend to throw out terms without always explaining them. I promise I will take a long, loving, terrified look at the old Hollywood studio system in the not-too-distant future, including what that phrase meant in the history of our genre. For now, you only need to know that Poverty Row was the collective noun for small, cheaply run and often fly-by-night independent studios mostly clustered along Gower Street in Hollywood that produced, at best, grade B movies. Westerns, serials, gangster pictures, and low-grade but often quite enjoyable horror pictures poured out of these movie mills, some shot in a matter of days on budgets that wouldn’t pay for a good used car today.
Moving on. That first La Llorona film has placed around the two flashbacks a contemporary story involving descendants of the original family, and the peril to the newest member, Juanito, on his fourth birthday. According to a legend related by the mother’s father, every first-born child in that line of descent disappeared on their fourth birthday, carried away by la Llorona. A mysterious, cloaked and masked figure lurks around the set, peering through secret panels and other such conventions of the Old Dark House sub-genre. It has comic relief, red herrings and all the trappings of better, and worse films. The climax reveals – Spoiler alert! – that it has been a trusted servant that has been possessed by the evil spirit of la Llorona. It had been she who was behind the several thwarted attempts to make away with the little boy.
As I stated above, not bad. Competently acted and directed, with a brisk but not rushed pace, it’s an enjoyable film of its period, with all the technical limitations inherent to that era. I just wish I could have found better subtitles, as my Spanish is not much better than at a ‘decipher-the-menu’ level. I suspect if I had been able to, I’d rate this one at C+. As it is, it’s a solid C.
The identically named version from 1960 is, structurally, very similar to the first film, but technically on a much higher level. I could easily see this coming from a North American studio of the caliber of Columbia or a second-tier Universal unit in that same time period. In fact, it reminds me, stylistically and technically, of one of the better William Castle vehicles, without the distracting gimmicks. A solid, well-made film, very enjoyable. I liked that the identity of la Llorona is made clear during her repeated attempts to do away with the child in this version. The build up of suspense for every attempt is handled with stylistic flair and subtle, gradual make-up effects at least as good as a contemporary Hollywood picture of its kind and time. B+
That leaves us with what is perhaps the most problematic of the films under consideration, The Curse of the Crying Woman, AKA La Maldición de la Llorona. Problematic in that it doesn’t exactly fit thematically with the others, being closer in tone and storyline to one of Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe adaptations. Still, it’s quite an attractively mounted film, albeit in black-&-white rather than the color productions Corman was making by 1963. Otherwise, the influence is obvious. Its historical setting, in this case, the mid-to-late 19th Century, the mise en scene, the acting, are all seemingly in keeping with the style Corman had established north of the Rio Grande. And yet, its departures from the basic legend make it hard to judge as a la Llorona film.
Oh, boy, I did it again, didn’t I? Mise en scene is, simply put, everything in a film or play that isn’t acting or dialogue. Costumes, set design, props, lighting, music, etc. Clear as mud? Moving on.
This time out, the spirit of la Llorona is lurking around an ancient house, waiting to displace the soul of her nearest available female descendant. At the exact moment of her twenty-fifth birthday, the latest in the line is fated to pull a spear out of what looks like a Medieval torture device known as a Catherine Wheel upon which the decayed corpse of the original la Llorona has been pinned since she was executed for her crimes. That will free the spirit of la Llorona to possess the young woman so she can carry on her demonic career. The somewhat convenient escape of the insane former owner of the crumbling house, up until the climax locked away in the bell tower, scotches the evil plans by strangling the villainous aunt so that the heroine can escape with her less-than-hypercompetent husband.
Good, solid filmmaking of its kind and era. I rate it a B.
I hope the populace doesn’t object to my comparing these efforts of the Mexican studios to the contemporary output of Hollywood. I’m making the perhaps unwarranted assumption that the majority of the folks likely to read this are more familiar with North American horror films, and that that familiarity might provide some context for fitting these three pictures into the overall history of the genre. If I’m incorrect, feel free to let me have it with both barrels in your comments. I’m a tough old codger. I can take it.
Selah Janel was blessed with a giant imagination, even if it made her gullible enough to wonder if fairies lurked in the woods and vampires waited in abandoned barns outside of town as a child. As an adult, she writes in various genres, including horror and dark fantasy. Her work has been published in multiple anthologies, magazines, e-books, and a short story collection. She likes her music to rock, her vampires lethal, her faeries to play mind games, and her princesses to have adventures and hold their own.
NTK: Welcome back to Chilling Chat, Selah! Thank you for joining me today!
SJ: Thanks so much for having me again!
NTK: How did it feel to be named 2020’s Best in Blood winner?
SJ: I’d say pretty shocked is a good description for it! I was not expecting it at all!
NTK: You are very deserving! Tell us a little about “Wallpaper” your winning story.
SJ: I had originally written it as a flash story for another project, but it started going over word count, so I just kept it saved in my files for a while. It’s a pretty simple concept story of a woman at a crossroads in her own life stumbling into a haunted hotel and dealing with some particularly strange interior design. (Laughs.) Something is in the wallpaper, so it’s a short that focuses on that discovery and spirals from there.
NTK: What projects have you been working on since last we chatted?
SJ: Well, 2020 has obviously changed a lot of things and I was already doing a lot of changing and dealing with some things last year, as well, so the writing has been forced to slow down a bit. I’m starting to come back to it here and there, which is awesome and necessary. I’ve been typing a lot from my notebooks to edit, going through old files, submitting, etc. This summer I started helping the crew at Legendary Tales Magazine as a slush reader, and that really brought about a new perspective on what editors look for and how things work on that end. I’ve been going through a lot of my old shorts from anthologies and other places and hope to be putting some of those out on kindle soon as individual titles, too. There’s a lot of trial and error, and I’m rebuilding a bit and working on a few original manuscripts and ideas.
NTK:Legendary Tales Magazine is lucky to have you! You’re very involved in acting and costuming. Have these experiences inspired any of your stories?
SJ: Oh definitely, in a lot of ways. In general, I think my years of acting classes in college taught me how to approach characters a little differently, to use techniques like sense memory while writing to get more into their heads or into certain moments. And improv classes have been great for latching onto unintended plot development and rolling with it. Costume work has made me detail obsessed so a lot of my stories, especially my longer work, have several layers or little hidden details or researched bits. I live for stuff like that. I usually overthink clothing details and try to make them matter, as well. In terms of content-wise, yes and no. I think I avoided some of that trying to put distance there for a while, but enough time has passed that I’m ready to incorporate it more. There’s an old vampire story I did for the anthology The Big Bad, the title of the story is “Real Wild Childe,” and there’s a seamstress character in it who ties a lot of the plot together. Her specific backstory isn’t mine, but her frustrations at trying to get ahead and have her work be appreciated, the long hours it takes to do something well, and the sheer amount of scars from seam rippers and rotary blades and needles is pretty much from my life. I’ve set a story behind the scenes of a haunted attraction and that was a lot of fun to do—with all my life stories in that and the amusement park world, I’m pretty much looking for excuses to use those settings at this point. An old, out of print novel I’m working on re-editing dealt with a midwest small town guy becoming a rockstar and a cursed pair of shoes, so a lot of that book was looking at aspects of the entertainment lifestyle and the work involved, as well as a lot of costume detail there. I tend to not like description for description’s sake—I want to know what a character is wearing has a reason or fits the world or whatever. And I think with acting, it’s kind of the same skills involved that you’d take into scene work—only now I’m playing all the characters and responsible for all the emotional moments landing true, if that makes sense.
NTK: Where can our readers find you in the future?
SJ: I’ve had to take a break from media while dealing with life and putting my health back together a bit, but I’m starting to get back to it again! People can look for me at my website and I’m on Twitter and on Facebook. I’m on Instagram, but haven’t had a chance to really play there and start posting yet. My historical horror/kinda vampire story Mooner is on Amazon.
I’m really hoping to have two shorts up soon. These were either done under another name or showed up in other places, but I’m still working on edits and tweaking some things. Hopefully soon for those, though!
NTK: Sounds wonderful! I’m sure the readers look forward to it. Thank you for chatting with me today, Selah. It’s always a pleasure, and congratulations on winning Best in Blood!
SJ: I always love talking to you and the rest of the Horror Addicts! Thanks so much!
Eric Shapiro is a writer and filmmaker. Called “the next Philip K. Dick” by author Kealan Patrick Burke, Shapiro is the author of six critically acclaimed fiction books, among them the novella “It’s Only Temporary” (2005), which appeared on Nightmare Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Horror Books, and numerous short stories published in anthologies alongside work by H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and many others. His nonfiction articles have been published on The Daily Dot, Ravishly, and The Good Men Project. His first feature film, “Rule of 3” (2010), won awards at the Fantasia International Film Festival and Shriekfest, and had its U.S. premiere at Fantastic Fest. His second feature film, “Living Things” (2014), was endorsed by PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals) and distributed by Cinema Libre Studio. In 2015, he won the 19th Annual Fade In Award for Thriller Screenplays. He was a founding partner of Ghostwriters Central, a writing and editing firm which has received positive notices from The Wall Street Journal, Consumers Digest, and the TV program “Intelligence For Your Life.” Eric has edited works published on The Huffington Post and Forbes, as well as two Bram Stoker Award-nominated novels. He lives in Northern California with his wife, Rhoda, and their two sons.
Eric is an intelligent and experienced writer. We spoke of writing, horror themes, and filmmaking.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Eric! Thank you for joining me today.
ES: Thank you for having me!
NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?
ES: Ohhh, I think I was about six or seven; my cousin Steve told me about Danny from The Shining, saying, “Redrum.” Firsthand, I think I was ten, watching The Lost Boys with my cousins Lauren and Jessica and my sister Stephanie. We weren’t expecting it to be so dark, but it was great.
NTK: Is Lost Boys your favorite horror movie? What is your favorite horror film?
ES: I think my first early favorite was Witchboard, which I saw a couple years later. I liked how tight and melodramatic it was. I’d probably still like it, but it’s been awhile. My favorite recent horror movie, as in from this century, is Martyrs, the original French version, which is a great movie regardless of genre. Maybe my favorite since the year 2000.
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV series?
ES: I don’t! I’m so behind on series, and movies too since I became a dad nine years ago. I’ve just lately been catching up more during Covid.
NTK: Do you have a favorite horror novel?
ES: It’s absolutely Stephen King’s IT, which I read in 7th grade and which devoured me like no book before or since.
NTK: Who is your favorite character in IT?
ES: Well, I had to upgrade Stan Uris in my mind since I’m Jewish. He’s not the deepest character in the book, but I pictured myself as a more detailed version of him. I actually wrote some fan fiction in junior high from Stanley’s point-of-view, to get into him more. (laughs)
NTK: As a Jewish horror writer, how has your experience in the horror community been?
ES: Oh fine. The horror heads are generally very cool people, usually sensitive and looking for fun. I just became an HWA member after years of flirting with it, and everyone I’ve interacted with has been very welcoming and warm.
NTK: Going back to King, is he your greatest influence? What author has influenced you most in your writing?
ES: Pound for pound, it’s probably him, with Chuck Palahniuk as a close second. Or rather I should say that since Palahniuk came later, King is a more foundational influence. I actually prefer King when he wrote/writes as Richard Bachman—he’s tighter and less sentimental. I like that side of him. Palahniuk’s work taught me a lot about sculpting every sentence, though he’s not about narrative and suspense the way King is—and the way I usually am.
NTK: What inspires you to write?
ES: Lately it all starts with a character. It’s the psychology of a character interacting with the society around them. I have ideas all the time for worlds and stories but it’s usually the extreme characters I follow through on. Like I’ll picture a guy or a woman and get a feel for him/her, and want to see where it leads. I worked professionally as a ghostwriter for 17 years, though, and am still not completely out of the burnout. It’s been a gradual healing process of writing for joy instead of under pressure, and finding my own voice and insight again.
NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you plan their every move?
ES: Total free will. I think I know where it’s going in general, but it often ends up nowhere close. And I’ve found that if I force them to do something it comes out stiff. If you let them lead, you end up learning their whims and instincts and limits, which brings them to life more.
NTK: What inspired Red Dennis?
ES: I co-own and write for a local newspaper in Silicon Valley and a local woman essentially tried to “cancel” me. It was all on the basis of my opinion-editorials. The attempt ended up backfiring. But it made me so angry that I started wondering how far I’d have to be pushed to lose my mind. Fortunately, I put the energy into something constructive! We always have that choice.
NTK: What is your favorite horror theme? Do you enjoy good vs. evil? Transgression horror? What interests you most in a horror story?
ES: I think it’s transgression. Psychosis. Cruelty. Blind ideology or selfishness. Also, I’m addicted to suspense. So, my stories are often about people who are running out of time. They have pressing deadlines to achieve this or that. That’s where a lot of my narrative focus goes: structuring a scenario where the protagonist is pressed for time or has a looming obligation or encounter.
NTK: You’re also a filmmaker and screenwriter. Which is more difficult? Writing a screenplay? Or writing a novel?
ES: Definitely a novel. You have to populate the whole world. Whereas a screenplay has less words per page and is a detailed blueprint for something else. As for making a movie, though…well, a novel is much easier, as least in terms of what it does to you physically…
NTK: You spoke of ghostwriting earlier. Do you feel ghostwriting helped you become the writer you are today? Was it easier to learn the craft writing under a different name?
ES: I think so. That’s where I got the 10,000 hours of experience. I was always stealing time to work on my own projects but couldn’t really go full-fledged, beyond novella-length, until 2019, when I switched to the newspaper full-time. That gave me time to work on my books over the course of months, as passion projects. And all the experience gave me a lot of confidence and discipline to push. Each day is always hard for writers, especially when starting off the day. But building up the muscle over time helps you feel more oriented and in command of the words.
NTK: Hemingway and Jack London worked for newspapers. Do you feel newspaper writing has also helped you in your writing?
ES: Absolutely. The reporting has muscled up my command of pure facts and research. The op-eds have fine-tuned my approach to persuasion and finding moral clarity in a piece. More people have read my work as a journalist than in any other form, which is ironic since I’m “known” for writing horror. People in my city will say, “Did you read his article? The horror writer’s?” But they’ve never read my books! But the journalism has sparked a new wave of awareness in the books, so it all works together.
NTK: Eric, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?
ES: Good question! I just republished my whole backlist of six dark fiction titles, and Red Dennis was new this year. Also new this year was a nonfiction book to inspire people’s writing called Ass Plus Seat. Right now, I have a movie in the works with horror legend Greg F. Gifune, but it’s on delay due to the pandemic. I will say I’m acting in it, which I’m ridiculously excited about. We should be announcing more soon…
NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today. It was a pleasure!
Darkest Hours presents a combination of realistic and supernatural stories, running the absolute gamut of subjects. The variety in stories is astounding. Thorn succeeds with visceral, gory body horror as well as psychological tension and cerebral, philosophical horror. He addresses traditional tropes and creates entirely new nightmares for his readers.
Darkest Hours gets off to a stomach-churning start with “Hair”. I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it through the rest of the book if it was going to all be like that. Fortunately for me, the following stories didn’t go after my gag reflex in such a way. “Long Man” and “Economy These Days” were stand-out performers in an already excellent line-up. “Long Man” took a traditional childhood fear and made it the sort of nightmare that sticks with you. “Economy These Days” was a unique and brutal look at modern struggles.
There is an academic leaning in some of the stories—one that can, at times, be a little patronizing. But Thorn writes the characters well, clearly drawing on personal experiences in university and graduate life. No matter what, Thorn keeps all of his stories short and tight, starting right in the action and leaving just enough room to build to the climax. His endings are superb, clinching the story at just the right moment.
Darkest Hours is a wonderful introduction to Mike Thorn as a writer. He’s created a wonderful collection of riveting stories. If you like small bites of horror, please pick Darkest Hours up.
So, read the edges of maps in the Age of Discovery, that period when Europeans wandered around the planet, snatching up lands and property and natural resources from indigenous peoples, to designate those areas into which they had not yet ventured. They feared what was there, but coveted the treasures they suspected would be found in those unexplored and unexploited regions. That’s where the monsters were, they thought, never realizing that they themselves were the monsters.
Isn’t that how it goes? The peril in staring so long into the abyss, according to Nietzsche, is that the abyss stares back into us. We become what we fear if we’re not careful. Alas, we are not very often a careful species. As Pogo Possum pointed out in the 1950s, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
And so, off the edge of the map, we sail, in search of treasures. And, in the case of the horror genre, monsters. For what would horror be without monsters?
The easy answer is, it would be suspense. There’s nothing wrong with suspense, as a genre. In many of its respects, it is very much like horror. It relies on many of the same tropes and tricks as horror. It’s just not what we’re are gathered here together to talk about. And, therefore, we must needs talk about monsters.
We love them, we hate them. We fear them, we pity them. We jump when they suddenly appear, we weep when they fall off of the Empire State Building. They are the primary and most reliable delivery system for le frisson, that delicious shiver we’re all looking for in our horror diet. That transient, delightful, cathartic physical sensation we feel when fangs pierce flesh when the mask is ripped away from the Phantom’s hideous face when clawed fingers emerge from the darkened room on the other side of the slowly opening door. The goosebumps, the dilation of the pupils, the quickening of the breath as we eagerly and, let’s admit it, sadistically anticipate the gruesome demise of some unfortunate nonentity.
Who’s the monster now?
More importantly, what is a monster?
The word comes from the Latin monstrum, from an earlier word that meant a warning or omen, often of evil events raining down upon humanity from the gods themselves. As applied to the manifestations of those warnings, it refers to beings that are disfigured or distorted in body or mind, the unnatural and the supernatural, those that are both outsized and outside the norm in other ways. In other words, those that we readily identify in our own culture as monsters.
Fritz Leiber, Jr. is more renowned for his fantasy than for his horror, having coined the term ‘sword and sorcery’ in 1961 and being arguably its most adept practitioner over the bulk of his nearly sixty-year career, but he wrote quite a few tales of terror and one major novel in the genre, Conjure Wife. He also won five Hugo Awards for science-fiction, but that’s even more neither here nor there than the fantasy. It’s horror we’re after! And I do plan to cover the estimable Mr. Leiber and his novel in more detail later, so don’t worry that you’ve inadvertently skipped a page or something, or that I’ve gotten you turned around or otherwise lost in the narrative. All shall be revealed at a later date.
Anyhow, in 1974, DAW Books published The Book of Fritz Leiber, for which he wrote a short essay entitled, “Monsters and Monster-Lovers”. Over the course of thirteen pages – and how fitting is that? – Leiber explicated his understanding of what a monster is, whence comes our fascination with them, and how does one go about most effectively creating them and using them to summon that frisson I mentioned earlier. Along the way, he lists some of his favorites, all of whom I intend to expound upon in future entries herein. Lovecraftian menaces from the outer darknesses, creatures of folklore and science fiction, giant apes and shapeshifters and even poor old Richard III, all will have their say in this space. Feeling that shiver of anticipation yet?
No? Then let me introduce you to legendary anthologist Peter Haining, who included in his 1988 collection, Movie Monsters: Great Horror Film Stories, a prologue by the late great Ray Bradbury. In “Inviting Frankenstein into the Parlour”, Bradbury covered much of the same ground Leiber had fourteen years earlier, with some additions. Including Vertigo, of all things. He made a fairly good case for a third Hitchcock horror film, along with Psycho and The Birds. I expect I’ll take a look at that one of these days, as well. It’s too soon to mark your calendars, but don’t be surprised when it pops up.
Haining himself deserves a lengthy entry or two, along with other great gatherers of literary horrors like Richard Dalby, Donald A. Wollheim, August Derleth, Marvin Kaye, Christine Bernard, Dennis Wheatley, Gerald Page, Herbert Van Thal, and Charles Birkin. That and more will be forthcoming in times to come, along with so much more. But for now, the central question remains:
Why monsters? What is it about the disfigured, the deformed, the gigantic and the unnatural that draws us into their world, time and again? Is it some deep-seated need to exorcise our fears, or tap into the collective unconscious, or connect with the like-minded, or some other intense but subcutaneous psychological need?
Or is it simply that monsters are fun?
Yeah. I think that’s it. Don’t you?
I came along at the tail-end of that first generation to be inundated by the classic horror films of the 1930s and 1940s when Universal and other studios realized they had a gold mine and dumped their catalogs onto local television stations all over the United States. I was too young to stay up late on weekend nights to watch Shock Theater or whatever it was called in Nashville, but there were frequent appearance by Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man and their myriad fellow denizens of the night on our local stations during the hours when I was awake. I, like a few million other boomer kids, scheduled my playtime around movie presentations like the Big Show, which came on right after Dark Shadows and had at least one classic horror film a week. Or I’d crawl out of bed at five o’clock on a Saturday morning to catch Son of Frankenstein or The Mummy’s Curse on Night Owl Theater, before settling in with a bowl of Cap’n Crunch and a morning filled with cartoons. The Universal horror films were rarely much more than an hour in length, so once commercials were spliced in, they fit very nicely into the ninety-minute slot allotted to them. I’ve always suspected that was why it was that horror movies were so widely distributed on television, and thus one of the first entire classes of films largely preserved for future generations. Thank the Elder Gods for ninety-minute time slots.
Kids today are accustomed to massive promotional campaigns for pretty much anything that shows up on TV or in the movies, but that was a fairly new phenomenon in the early 1960s. There had been such campaigns in the 1950s for TV cowboys and such, but they were very specific. Hopalong Cassidy was the first, and Davy Crockett the most extensive, but those were before my time. My earliest memories of advertising premiums were the action figures from the third James Bond film, Goldfinger, that several of my fellow second-graders had, or the lunch-boxes decorated with pictures of popular TV and movie characters. Those, and all the monster stuff. And what monster stuff we had!
My parents frequently shopped at the old Sears store on Lafayette Street in Nashville. That building is now the Union Rescue Mission, but when I was a kid, when you came in through the garden department, you emerged into a magical world. Toys as far as you could see, and to your right a display of Matchbox Cars, back when they were actually packaged in matchbox-sized cardboard containers. Hence the name. Just beyond those was the real treasure trove, a long wall filled with plastic models, including the Aurora Monster kits. Frankenstein. The Mummy. Godzilla. Dracula’s Dragster. The Bride of Frankenstein. I built them all, at one time or another. There were monster wallets, too. I had one with the Phantom of the Opera on one side and the Wolf Man on the other. Didn’t have any money to put in it, though. My allowance was fifty cents a week, which barely covered a few comic books and some baseball cards and the occasional paperback or Whitman hardback or Big Little Book. But I had the wallet! And I had a Thingmaker, with metal molds you filled up with Plastigoop and baked in the little oven until Creepy Crawlers emerged that you could throw at your little sister and freak her out.
Best of all, when you could find one, were the issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. Articles on all the old horror films, and news of upcoming ones, with lots of pictures and groan-inducing puns. The thirty-five-cent cover price took up most of my allowance, cutting into my comic book collecting, but it was worth it to read Forrest J. Ackerman’s deathless prose about Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi and Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre and peruse the ads in the back for Don Post monster masks and 8mm films of old horror movies and real-life venus flytraps and record albums of scary stories and all the other goodies for sale to those whose allowance was more generous than mine.
All of which I intend to examine in some detail in installments yet to come, along with all the other spooky goodies I’ve read and seen and heard and otherwise accumulated in the decades since then. Hang around and travel down my memory lane with me into dark corners of horror you might not have ever suspected existed, and meet some monsters you might not have encountered yet.
It should be fun. Because, yeah, monsters are fun.
Hey HorrorAddicts! I hope you all are staying safe and insane—I mean healthy—during these peculiar times, and I hope, like me, you are taking advantage of all the PHENOMENAL horror offerings this season! MAN! What a great time to be a horror fan!
One of the best films I’ve watched recently is the Shudder film The Mortuary Collection, directed by Ryan Spindell and starring Clancy Brown. A nod to anthology films like Creepshow and Tales of the Crypt, The Mortuary Collection is at turns ominous, creepy, campy, and MAN does it ROCK! I found myself digging the music so much I whipped out the old iPhone and used Shazam! to try to find out who was responsible for these groovy tunes. Much to my chagrin, the tunes were nowhere to be found.
But thanks to my pal Google, I did a little more digging and I discovered the culprits: The Mondo Boys. This duo has been making music together since they were fifteen and are not only quite adept at creating hauntingly beautiful scores, but at writing “lyric-and-vocal” pieces as well.
For this film, they had the challenge of creating an Elfman-esque/Potter-ish score as well as tunes to go with different eras portrayed in the film. You had a Frat-boy-gone-bad tune in “Little Lover,” a funky throwback in “Suicide,” and the 60s reminiscent back-and-forth in “Find Me In The Fall” that suck you into the theme of that section of the film as though you’d switched on a radio station made of the exact ingredients necessary to evoke the desired emotion. You know it’s the perfect soundtrack when you’re pulling up iTunes or Spotify to download the songs. Ahem…Mondo Boys, if you’re reading, will you get right on that? In the meantime, you can stream the songs on their website.
So, the next time you’re watching a film and think “huh, I wonder who wrote that song? It’s perfect for this scene,” you just might discover that The Mondo Boys are responsible. You can find their website at https://www.mondoboys.com and I encourage you to check out their other projects. The Mortuary Collection is a great film. Check it out and I guarantee you that you’ll be smiling so wide your face will ache by the time it’s through!
That’s it for this month. Stay Tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings and Ro’s Recs…
When one spots a bag of loose Halloween skeleton bones at Goodwill for $5, one snatches it before anyone else! Like an archaeologist on a discovery, opening the bag revealed large femurs, skulls, spines, and bony hands perfect for a towering Pot O’ Bones!
These odd, incomplete skeletons, however, were two different colors, and a brown paint dry brushed gave the bones a cohesive color before a second coat of a yellow and brown muddy added to the dug up and weathered theme. An unused skull meant to go with the collapsed Shakespeare Cardboard Tombstone and a pair of skeleton arm tongs from the dollar store were also doctored with aging paint and tossed into the collection. Initially, a found terracotta pot served as the tower base, but it was too big, requiring more backyard stones to secure the inner cardboard tower roll re-purposed from an upholstery fabric sale. The hole in the bottom of the pot meant a stabilizing stake could run through the pole, but since this isn’t weather proof anyway, the stake and the increasingly heavy terracotta were swapped for a smaller rusted metal pot.
With the stand fixed, the bones were strategically set using semi-adjustable hot glue rather than a mega strong adhesive that doesn’t allow maneuvering. Once the large femurs were in place, the cardboard base was painted brown just in case any gaps showed. More leaves, sticks, or stones as fillers between the angular bones were an option, but two bags of dollar store moss completed the decrepit look. Although one could paint the post and even moss the entire tower before adding the bones, that also creates unnecessary work in spots that might not show. This assembly could be done quickly in a day, but I did the bones and moss in stages and made adjustments. Like a Christmas tree, I keep seeing gaps were there should be less moss or another bone and wasn’t quite pleased. Fortunately, the discarded bottom halves from my 3D Skeleton Frames project provided more bones.
Obviously, long term outdoor use requires different materials, but with on hand paint supplies, found materials, $5 for the bones and $2 for the moss, this was much cheaper than the luxury skull towers online. Bags of bones themselves run between $15 and $30! This same model can be applied to family friendly leaves and pumpkins or more birds and bats morose, and a Pot O’ Bones Tower is perfect for a foyer statement, autumn porch, or cemetery sentry.
Plot: t’s 1999 and over the course of one 12 hour shift at an Arkansas hospital, a junkie nurse, her scheming cousin and a group of black market organ-trading criminals start a heist that could lead to their imminent demises.
Who would Like it: Fans of dark comedies, gorehounds, and fans of thrillers!
High Points: With all the gore, off the charts plots and comedy this will probably end up being a cult favorite.
Complaints: It’s not horror.
Overall: I liked it, it was super fun
Stars: 3 and 1/2
Where I watched it: Screener
Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains. Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.
When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net
She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.
SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire is a groundbreaking anthology, featuring stories of black characters, written by black authors. The stories featured have a staggering range, pulling from myths and cultures worldwide.
Desiccant by Craig Laurance Gidney
In “Desiccant” a woman moves into a new apartment, only to discover that a mysterious illness plagues the building, draining the residents dry.
This story is absolutely original. Gidney set the tone for the entire anthology in terms of creativity. From the start, I knew I was in for a revolutionary set of stories that took vampire myth to new heights.
Love Hangover by Sheree Renée Thomas
This creative telling of the Infinity Disco fire in 1979 tells the story of a man entranced by a siren, leading him into a grim life of covering up murders.
Thomas weaves infatuation and horror together into a tightly told story that draws you deeper into dread. Her descriptions of Delilah are enchanting and terrifying all in one.
The Retiree by Steven Van Patten
An old man, taken to a retirement home hides a terrible secret from her daughter, something he must do to keep her safe. And he must make one final sacrifice to do it.
Patten’s characters jump off the page from the start. He pulls no punches when it comes to a crotchety old man. His slow reveal of the story made this stand out in an impressive anthology.
The Dance by L. Marie Woods
Gillian finds herself entranced with a woman dancing at a club and is drawn into her spell.
Woods brings blood and sex to the page with “The Dance”. I was absolutely enthralled. Her prose is impressive. The brief glimpse she offers—the story spans mere minutes—is so satisfying.
A Clink of Crystal Glasses Heart by LH Moore
In “A Clink of Crystal”, a group of teen girls is ushered into womanhood, and something more, by their mothers.
Moore steps inside the mind of a teenage girl with ease. She creates a unique and imaginative take on the vampire myth, weaving it with femininity in a way that delighted me. She could easily weave this into a successful novel.
Diary of a Mad Black Vampire by Dicey Grenor
The vampire Ashanti does not get attached to humans until she meets Tetra. As Tetra’s darker desires are revealed, Ashanti becomes more enamored. The ending is a twist to die for.
Grenor creates incredible tension throughout the story. I was filled with dread just reading, knowing something was right, but not sure where everything would go wrong. “Diary of a Mad Black Vampire” is a masterful story.
The Return of the OV by Jeff Carroll
In “The Return of the OV”, an old-school vampire is imprisoned after a heinous murder threatens to expose vampires to mankind.
“The Return of the OV” is clever. That’s really the best way to describe Carroll’s premise and writing. He explores the intricacies of vampire politics in a short format, hinting at a wider world just beyond what we can see.
The Last Vampire Huntress by Alicia McCalla
After her guild of hunters is murdered by a vampiric ex-boyfriend, a woman struggles whether to accept her destiny as a vampire hunter and the grim fate that comes with it.
McCalla introduces a novel’s worth of content in a short story format. She manages to tell a complicated and fascinating story with very little space. Her characters are engaging and her ability to write action is impressive.
Gritty Corners by Jessica Cage
In “Gritty Corners”, a young vampire hunts down her sire for revenge, only to find out there’s more to the story of her transformation.
I desperately want to see “Gritty Corners” as a novel or series. Cage introduces a kick-ass female protagonist who can truly hold her own. She left me wanting so much more than what I was given. This was one of my absolute favorite stories in the anthology.
Shadow of Violence by Balogun Ojetade
A woman infiltrates a vampire feeding ground and reveals herself to be far more than they ever expected.
Ojetade writes action like no one else, creating tension without being overly technical. He introduces unfamiliar mythology with ease, weaving it into the story without bogging down the plot.
‘Til Death by Lynette S. Hoag
In ‘Til Death’, a vampire assassin must help a client dispatch his wife when he suspects she’s been turned into a vampire.
The humor and horror in ’Til Death’ work so well together. Hoag creates a larger than life character who could hold her own in a series.
Encounters by K. R. S. McEntire
In ‘Encounters’ a woman sees her dead husband twenty years after he should have died.
The revelations to come and the choice she must make kept me on the edge of my seat. Mcentire presents a powerful story of family and love.
Unfleamed by Penelope Flynn
When an important vampire finds herself in trouble after feeding from an important human, she’s rescued by a lowly vampire who has important news to tell her… and a favor to ask.
It’s clear that Flynn created a wonderful and complex world that she only hints at in “Unfleamed”. The story is packed with fun references to Dracula and honestly made me laugh with the reveal at the end.
Beautiful Monsters by Valjeanne Jeffers
In “Beautiful Monsters”, a vampire combats a corrupt system of oppression against supernatural characters in a small town.
Jeffers presents another story that could easily be expanded into a novel. She pulls more than just vampire lore in for the fun and “Beautiful Monsters” is better for it.
Frostbite Delizhia D. Jenkins
In “Frostbite”, a woman discovers her family’s dark past after she’s turned by a vampire, along with the betrayal that could change the course of her future.
“Frostbite” is a beautiful story. It’s masterfully written, with nuanced characters and a slow reveal of the plot that made me ravenous for more. Again, I want to see a novel adaptation with even more.
Di Conjuring Nectar of Di Blood by Kai Leakes
In this story of love, community, and hope, ancient lovers reunite to protect their friends and family from old threats in a new age.
The atmosphere of this story is everything. Leakes writes the culture of her characters in a way that few authors can. The setting comes alive and the tension of the story is wonderful.
Snake Hill Blues by John Linwood Grant
In “Snake Hill Blues”, Mamma Lucy hunts a vampire that stalks the community of Harlem.
Grant creates a compelling character in Mama Lucy. It’s impossible not to root for her, and even more difficult not to worry as things get hairy. “Snake Hill Blues” was one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
Ujima by Alledria Hurt
In “Ujima”, a newly turned vampire tries to save her sister and other humans from the vampires that enslave them like cattle.
Hurt creates a horrifying world where vampires rule and humans are merely food. Using a pair of sisters to explore this dynamic makes the story all that more compelling.
Attack on University of Lagos, Law Faculty by Obhenechovwe Donald Ekpeki
When frightening creatures attack the university, turning students into zombies, a lone man must rise as a hero to fight them.
The voice of Ekpeki is incredible. The story was both frightening and hilarious. I enjoyed the overly confident nature of the narrator.
His Destroyer by Samantha Bryant
“His Destroyer” retells of the story of the Passover from the point of view of the angel of Death, a woman compelled by insatiable hunger to feed on the first-born Egyptians.
Bryant created a unique and literary story that was a delight to read. The grief of the woman at her actions is palpable.
Quadrille by Colin Cloud Dance
“Quadrille” tells the story of misfit monsters that find a home and family together.
Dance writes in an innovative style. His characters are compelling and the way he weaves the scientific information about vampires’ abilities doesn’t drag down the action.
Asi’s Horror and Delight by Sumiko Saulson
In “Asi’s Horror and Delight”, a witch attempts to trick a god by offering a legendary vampiric bird shapeshifter as a lover.
Saulson brings various myths into play in this story. She kept me in suspense about the intentions of the characters and their ultimate fates until the very end.
In Egypt’s Shadows by Vonnie Winslow Crist
In this story, a vampire follows generations of his former lover’s descendants, unable to let go of her memory.
Crist created a love story with vampire trappings. She wove in themes of obsession and love while also exploring what it means to live forever.
Rampage by Miranda J. Riley
In “Rampage”, a vampire hunter must make a monstrous sacrifice to hunt a vampiric elephant and the creature that created it.
Riley’s story is innovative. She takes the typical vampire myth from an unusual perspective, all while creating a compelling narrative.
No God but Hunger Steve Van Samson
In “No God but Hunger”, two companions hunt a leopard, only to find that they’re being hunted by something far worse.
Samson creates a world where humans have been driven from civilization by a greater threat. The return to basics is a wonderful twist on the dystopian genre.
Bloodline by Milton J. Davis
In a world ruled by a theocratic government, vampires are tightly watched. They are never to feed on people. When Telisa is introduced to human blood, it causes a drastic transformation and puts her on the run from the authorities.
Davis blends old vampire mythologies with new science to write a story that sings. The twists are unexpected, but satisfying.
Message in a Vessel by V.G. Harrison
In “Message in a Vessel”, a vampire plague has ravaged the world and the remaining vampires are running out of food. The humans have been enslaved, but their numbers are dwindling. In search of more, a space ship is being sent out.
The characters are vivid and the horror of the world is sinister, though it lurks under a clinical veneer. I loved this story. It was a piece of sci-fi mastery and I hope that Harrison creates so much more based on this premise.
Blood Saviors by Michele Tracy Berger
In “Blood Saviors” an investigator for the Vampire Council discovers a horrific experimental lab where fae are used to create beauty products for humans. She works to free the prisoners, but must also find a way to save her brother from the disease ravaging her community.
Berger’s world is immersive, pulling us into the tension of the story right away. The conflicting goals of the protagonist make the story all the more real. I liked that Berger didn’t hold back when building this story.
Overall, SLAY: Stories of the Vampire Noire was a compelling read. Each story presented something new. Old and new themes of vampires were explored in great detail. The authors should all be proud of what they created.
It’s the Autumn of Bones for Kbatz Krafts! What’s one to do with the smaller bones left over from my Pot O’ Bones Tower? Why make a morbid little wreath of course!
A dollar store metal frame was wrapped in brown yarn for the base, as I intended to finish off the glued on bones with some twine ties for a rusted look. However, this fourteen inch wreath seemed too big for the angular bones. Unlike more traditional wreath items like leaves or pine cones, the bones didn’t seem to fit with too much yarn and twine showing gaps between the bones. Fortunately, switching to a smaller diameter wreath frame meant the bones could be the star of the design, going off the edges of the round. Gluing onto the smaller wire frame, however, proved difficult with bones teetering on too few glue spots. Thankfully, switching to a nine inch willow wreath finally did the trick! This natural base that didn’t have to be hidden opened up the possibility for more raffia ties and small black branches sourced from more dollar store florals.
An additional bag of dollar store mini bones were tossed into the mix, too – again painted with the same dry brush brown technique as the Pot O’ Bones Tower to take off the new plastic edge while creating a cohesive, rustic look. After trying the bones in different positions and doubting if this wreath was meant to be because none of the arrangements looked right, I realized it was the largest bones that were the most troublesome. Without them, the smaller femurs and mini bones created a much nicer jointed and angular shape. Now that the placement was at last settled, each was hot glued on to the wreath with the black branches adding macabre but natural pop as well as hiding some of the glue globs. The slightly darker raffia loosely wrapped in symmetrically asymmetrical spots also hid the assembly. This bony wreath looks like the branches and ties are what’s holding it together, and a twine hanging loop sets off the natural motif.
Unlike a traditional wreath where any arrangement comes out complimentary, these morbid materials took some trial and error addition, subtraction, and experimentation. Fortunately, this afternoon project packs a demented little punch for a modest under $8 for supplies that were already in the craft closet – except for those extra Halloween season only mini bones! Compared to expensive skulls and florals, this macabre bone wreath is much more fun and affordable.