To paraphrase the opening narration of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas: As far back as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of horror movies. Even though I’ve tried, I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t a fan, though I’m certain such a time must have existed. Growing up in the 1990s, I readily devoured every scary movie I could lay my hands on. Dawn of the Dead; The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; A Nightmare on Elm Street. Even more obscure fare like the Italian classics Zombi 2 and Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror. Every Friday night, I would make my weekly pilgrimage to my local video store and spend sometimes up to an hour in the HORROR section, perusing shelves of VHS tapes until I finally settled on one, or two, or three.
As I grew older, I moved away from the medium of film and began getting my horror from books. Stephen King, Dracula, Frankenstein, John Saul, and many, many anthologies. In recent years, however, I found myself gravitating back to the movies, first with the intention of watching the classics I had somehow missed (Universal’s 1931 adaptation of Dracula, John Carpenter’s The Thing, etc.) and then going off the rails and watching whatever looked most interesting. So far, some of the movies I’ve grown to love include Night of the Demons (original), Black Christmas (original), Sleepaway Camp, Spookies, Night of the Creeps, Hospital Massacre, Nightmare, The Last Slumber Party and many, many more.
One thing I’ve learned about myself in that time is this: Though I am older now, and watch with a more critical eye, my tastes remain largely unchanged. Or rather, while I’ve grown to like new things, I still find myself liking movies that are “cheesy.”
One of my favorite movies growing up was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers from 1988, I believe (I’m going off the top of my head here). It was the first Halloween movie to feature Myers since 1981’s Halloween II and finds the man himself returning home to kill a hitherto unmentioned niece. Along the way, he butchers a seemingly endless stream of horny teens with perms.
I can’t say why I like Halloween 4 so much. Maybe because it’s a time capsule of the 1980s (a decade I am unfortunately in love with). Maybe I have bad taste. Who knows? Either way, it wasn’t until I was older and made an effort to connect with other fans online that I found many people seemed to dislike H4. They liked Halloween 5 even less, a movie that I enjoyed, though can’t say I love (on rewatching it a couple Halloweens ago, I can see why a lot of people might dislike it). The same goes for, apparently, many of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels, particularly 1994’s The Next Generation, which was meant as something of a remake while not actually being a remake. In fact, many of the movies I liked then (and now) are considered “trash” by even connoisseurs of camp.
What’s interesting is that I’ve seen films previously considered “weak” or “bad” rehabilitated. One of my all-time favorite zombie films is George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) which follows a group of soldiers and scientists holed up in an underground bunker. It’s a largely psychologic character study focusing on humans and their reactions to the apocalypse and to each other, with the zombies mainly an off-screen presence. I remember as late as 2002, 2003, internet posters and film critics dismissing Day. Over the past fifteen years, however, something changed. More and more people are hailing it as a “classic.” The same thing is happening with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a movie I admit to not having seen. The first Halloween movie sans Michael Myers (and the first in a planned yearly “anthology” series), Halloween III has something to do with masks controlling people’s minds or something. I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know, but I distinctly remember it being the bastard step-child of the series a decade and a half ago. Now it’s being reevaluated and a lot of fans are finding it a nifty little film.
Then there’s Stephen King’s The Stand, a 1994 miniseries adaptation of the novel that aired on ABC. The Stand is, hands down, my favorite story in any medium. I first saw it in 2002 and fell in love with it. I remember reading as much as I could about it online and everyone else who watched it seemed to like it, too. Today, the majority of commentary I see about the thing is negative. Cheesy, they say; poor CGI, they say. Man, things sure do change, don’t they?
I’m the same as I always was, though. I like eighties movies where teenagers get cut up by a knife-wielding maniac. I still like movies where you can see the monster’s zipper and the strings holding up the bat. I still like movies where the make-up is goofy and the acting is stiff. That’s not all I like, of course, but those movies hold a special place in my heart. Of course, I’m an intelligent person. I recognize that when you get right down to it, there’s very little to justify the existence of Sleepaway Camp outside of the twist ending (and man, what a twist it was!). Funeral Home (1980) is a pale imitation of the far superior Psycho. Halloween 4 and 5 were both generic “slasher” films released at the tail end of the eighties slasher craze. Psycho Cop (1989) was not only generic but home to some of the worst acting this side of a kindergarten school play (Joe Vickers, the psycho Satanist cop, was a travesty…yet I watched the first and the sequel and enjoyed them both). The aforementioned Hospital Massacre (AKA X-Ray, 1981) was just a movie where a guy killed people in a hospital while wearing a surgical mask. Pragmatically speaking, these movies had no business being made. Almost none of them are original. Almost none of them are actually scary. Almost none of them do any credit to the actors and actresses who appeared in them, and do a huge discredit to the writers and directors who conceived them.
But at the end of the day…I love those movies, every single one of them (and a thousand others…Slumber Party Massacre, Mother’s Day, The Video Dead, Hell Night). If Night of the Living Dead and The Wolf Man are meat and potatoes, the others are chips and chocolate bars. Sure, they might have no “nutritional value,” but if you only eat meat and potatoes…man, you aren’t living.
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I’m beginning a new series of guest posts here on the blog, consisting of everything from short stories to essays. I’ve pretty much given each author free rein, so I’ll be as pleasantly surprised by these dark delights as you will be.
To kick things off, we have a short story by Simon Williams. It’s visceral and compelling, and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it. So without further ado, I give you this disturbing tale by the talented Mr. Williams.
FORWARD IN BLOOD
With the summer comes a destructive urge, perhaps stirred up by the humidity and need for something to shatter the continuity of day-night-day-night that would otherwise stampede its way through my life like a slowed down shutter.
I detest all the seasons equally, but I’m calmest in the autumn- when wild, damp winds and the stench of leaf mulch wrap me in a rotting blanket of melancholia. The summer brings a peculiar rage that varies from day to day and might be triggered by any random event or sighting, or a casual word spoken. My inconsistent rages are singular, lonesome things and depend on no one and nothing else. The omnipresent system that ties the world together has no bearing on my specific hatred.
My caregivers are consistently patient, resolutely attempting to understand my behaviour even when it cannot be understood, never mind condoned. They are sheep given the task of guarding wolves.
Behind the garden of the large house where I sleep is a wall, and beyond that wall a field of long grass stretches away into the distance. Walk far enough through that field and you will come to another, higher wall. It’s almost as thick as it is high, like the outer battlement of an ancient fort.
Beyond that mass of stones lies chaos.
Even from my vantage point on top of the second wall I can’t see to the far end of the field that lies beyond. This has led me to idly wonder if the field itself is infinite- a never-ending entanglement of thick thorn and bramble and gorse, continually choking itself to death- a sea of cruel vegetation allowed to fend for itself for as long as anyone can remember.
I’m sitting there now, and the summer heat is baking dry the blood that coats my hands and arms. There’s something in my hands- something from inside someone’s body, but I can’t identify its form or function. As it dries out I let it fall onto the hot stones, forgotten along with its owner.
The summer also brings the restless irritation of sleepless nights when violent thoughts slice their way through my head like shards of jagged glass. My memory will come and go in much the same way as my mood. I don’t recall what happened half an hour ago but I do recall the previous night with clarity. One of the caregivers was slashed with a knife. Her lower arm opened up like a soft, fleshy scroll. For a while everything was red. The perpetrator was brought under control. Both the caregiver and the perpetrator screamed like tortured pigs, almost in unison as if the agony and confusion of one triggered something similar in the other.
Something must also have happened a short while ago, judging by the state of my hands and the piece of drying offal I cast aside just now.
I can’t go back. Maybe I can never go back.
The field of thorns calls silently to me as it bakes in the midday sun- a faint rustle and the crackle of dry heat.
A moment later, I’ve jumped from the wall and into the thickness of hell.
The sensation is not of falling but being brought slowly to the ground. The thorns cut savagely into my legs, arms, face and everywhere else. I only open my eyes when I finally reach the cold, strangely damp ground.
The sky looks so far away. All around, the vegetation grows thickly, almost impenetrable. Vast thorns jut out from muscular brambles the size of tree branches. Tendrils of ivy thread here, there and everywhere.
This field, I remind myself, may be endless.
I’m so used to casually inflicting pain- and I have always needed to inflict a little more each time to derive the same degree of pleasure as previously. It never occurred to me that the agony of lying at the bottom of a vast jungle, bleeding in a hundred places, could be satisfying.
But it still isn’t enough. Every hurdle overcome simply presents the opportunity for another, greater obstacle. The anger of my life has been largely derived from that knowledge. I know that I will have to drag my crimson, ragged body through this maze of gloom and tendrils, not to keep that heightened sense of pain but to surpass it- to test myself until the trial ends in screaming failure.
Those in power- the mysterious and shadowy officials of government to whom the caregivers bow and scrape- say that I can’t die. Supposedly this was a punishment for a transgression carried out a very long time ago. I don’t remember. Regardless, it may be that I can still destroy myself by pushing my mind through such agony that it snaps, retreats to some other place- somewhere the flesh-bag it inhabits can’t follow it to.
You see, a long life as a killing machine has its drawbacks. I was designed to feel pleasure from each atrocity I committed (they call them atrocities, but I would never be so subjective- to me they are acts. Some people masturbate- I kill people). But even those small spikes of interest became, after a long while, insignificant protrusions on the vast landscape of my life.
I begin crawling through the undergrowth. Thorns and razor-sharp leaves slice my flesh. I leave a bloody trail as I continue through the field.
Time passes. I can’t say how much time. Flesh falls in slivers from my arms and legs. Plants move to block my way. Creepers entwine themselves around the glistening remains of my ankles but I tear myself free each time. Try harder, I implore them as I force my way through, staining the mulch with my gore.
Inevitably the foliage employs increasingly extreme methods in an attempt to stall the progress of the wrecked and bleeding figure, the interloper in the chaos. A tendril snakes down my throat and I cough a stream of half-digested meat and bile onto the dim way ahead. A thick bramble forces its way into my rectum. The pain of thorns scratching and tearing at tissue as the invader slides onwards is intense, so much so that my vision fades almost to nothing for a while. I can feel the creeper and the bramble meet somewhere within my body, knot together and inexplicably flourish and grow in an attempt to destroy me from the inside, a protrusion of fleshy vegetation designed to burst through my skin.
As the branches of a sapling stab through both my eyes in the same instant, finally I’m borne upwards towards the sky and the sunlight, and held aloft by the unspeaking denizens of this unspeakable forest, like an offering to be inspected by their Gods.
But it’s here that I finally behold- without seeing- the dimensions of this great field. Its true perimeter is marked not by walls of stone but by the places where others have perished. I am not the first to attempt a crossing of this hell, but I’ve gone further than anyone before me, and as the cruel arms of its guardians move me I can feel the points where others gave up, bright in my mind’s eye with the blood and agony of their eventual passing. All of us from the House, perhaps, are eventually destined for this place. When we arrive and attempt that journey depends on many things. Perhaps, having sown so many seeds of evil, I’m finally considered worthy of a place in the surrounding garden. The endless forest will feast upon my body and my mind. Maybe it even has a physical border, but with each and every consumption of a condemned soul it grows more bountiful and that true edge is pushed back ever further.
As I laugh out loud at this revelation, my multitude of captors conspire to snap my jaw and feast upon the flesh of my tongue. The sounds of my mirth die in a harsh gurgle of blood. The branches that put out my eyes push beyond those remains and deep into the warm and complex flesh of my brain. Part of me fades, but something else grows inside. I face the unending sky, unable to see, hear or feel anything, yet joyous in my triumph- joyous to that instant when I grow cold and still and my remains fall back to the uncaring earth.
I’m a writer, not a book reviewer, so I don’t normally critique books I read. There are others far better at that sort of thing than I, like Adrian Shotbolt of The Grim Reader, Jim Mcleod of Ginger Nuts of Horror, and Shane Douglas Keene of Shotgun Logic. If I’m not particularly impressed by a book, I usually won’t mention it in public at all. If I like a book or its author’s other works I’ll absolutely share it on social media. But when I love a book, as in the case of The Rib From Which I Remake The World by Ed Kurtz, I can’t wait to tell others about it. Because, like I’ve said before, word of mouth is a writer’s best friend.
This novel is spectacular. The story itself is a bit of a horror/noir hybrid, heavy on the “horror,” with just a soupçon of Stephen King’s Needful Things. It’s about the WWII-era town of Litchfield, Arkansas, which has been visited by a very odd theater troupe.
But the story is mainly about George “Jojo” Walker, a man who is introduced to you not long after a series of terrible events have all but ruined his life. Very noir. Just after the inciting incident—a murder in the hotel where Jojo works as the house “dick”—things go quickly sideways. What follows is the horrific tale of a man who must save his home town from an insidious evil while at the same time trying to save himself from his own past. Jojo is aided in his mission by a small cast of other colorful characters, as well as hampered by a pair of truly despicable villains. Whether he finds redemption or damnation in the end, I’ll leave for you to discover.
Ed Kurtz is one hell of a writer. There is a depth of imagination and intelligence in his storytelling that I’ve not come across in some time, and I found myself envious of his talent as I read this novel. That doesn’t happen to me too often, so you must appreciate how hard that is for a self-aggrandizing, hypersensitive writer like me to admit. But good is good, and Kurtz fucking is.
So I urge you to get The Rib From Which I Remake The World by Ed Kurtz, now. You won’t regret it.
Well. Maybe after you turn out the lights.
When I was thirty, my younger brother David was beaten to death with a baseball bat. Oh, it took several years for his body to die, but in everything that mattered, his life ended on that godawful night.
It began when he started casually seeing a girl named Lucy who lived in the same apartment complex he did. I wholeheartedly encouraged him in this pursuit. David was a single dad, raising a son and daughter on his own, and I thought he owed it to himself to relax a little and have some fun.
But the girl had a jealous ex husband, who in turn had a ratty little reprobate cousin with the fitting last name of Roach.
That night there were a few dudes hanging out at David’s place, me included. David’s kids were with our parents, so we were all having a good time, drinking beer and smoking it up.
All of a sudden someone kicked the front door in, and in stepped Roach, holding a baseball bat, come to defend his cousin’s honor, according to some bullshit redneck code of ethics in his squirming little mind. Continue reading
I’ve been all over social media with this news, but I haven’t officially announced it here yet, so I thought I’d better get on it. So yeah. Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs has a shiny new cover. I love this one. It’s very Lovecraftian. And it makes a dark promise, as all good horror book covers should. Hope you like it.
Ten tales of horror from the mind of Israel Finn
-A man who is faced with the prospect of losing the most important thing in his life—his son—but instead loses his mind. And then finds himself trapped in a waking nightmare with no way out.
-A frustrated man who curses life for having the audacity to pass him by, but discovers how it feels to be truly forsaken when the universe chooses to teach him a horrifying lesson.
-An outcast who must decide between vengeance and forgiveness in a world turned upside down by war and famine.
-A woman on trial in a world where telling the truth is a crime.
-A man who is living with a very odd houseguest, a visitor who has no concept of war.
-A boy who lives in constant terror of someone who is supposed to love and protect him, but who has betrayed that trust. A horror story that examines the real-life beasts who walk among us every day.