Horror & Suspense – Updated 10/27

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If you’re a fan of the creepy and disturbing (in a good way!), you might have delved into the podcast world in search of some good listening. While everyone will have their own favorites and be partial to one style or another, I’ve come up with a brief list that might be of interest to you. These are ones I currently listen to and can recommend.

In no particular order:

  1. Nightmare Magazine – Horror and Dark Fantasy Story Podcast ( Edited by bestselling, award-winning anthologist John Joseph Adams, NIGHTMARE is a digital magazine of horror and dark fantasy. In its pages, you will find all kinds of horror and dark fantasy, from zombie stories and haunted house tales, to visceral psychological horror. Every month NIGHTMARE will bring you a mix of original fiction and reprints, and featuring a variety of authors: from the bestsellers and award-winners you already know to the best new voices you haven’t heard of yet. When you read NIGHTMARE, it is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going. The NIGHTMARE podcast, produced by Grammy Award-winning narrator and producer Stefan Rudnicki of Skyboat Media, is presented twice a month, featuring original audio fiction and classic reprints. – Reference of Description)

2.  Tales to Terrify – Audio Horror Fiction Magazine

3.   Relic Radio – Especially The Horror & Strange TalesLink Here 

4.   Faculty of Horror – Link Here

Only four? Well,  yes,  at this time. I also listen to other podcasts that aren’t horror related, so I’m not including them (in this blurb). Are these the best? Well, I don’t know. It’s all very subjective. These are ones that I’ve enjoyed and continue to listen to. A few others (such as Horror Etc. Podcast) no longer exists per se (the hosts tend to put up one episode for Halloween each year since ending their reulgar podcast). So, if you can seek out the backlog on that one, you’ll be in for a treat – that was probably my favorite horror one.

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In 1978, one of the most disturbing and gruesome films hit videotape. Faces of Death (and later, Traces of Death, a “copycat” version from 1993) showed every morbid, twisted, sickening aspect of death, dying, and mutilation that had pretty much ever been captured on celluloid.

These kind of films are not even remotely in my wheelhouse. I don’t find them entertaining and I certainly would never recommend them to anyone, unless you happen to enjoy seeing animals killed and people suffering. (and if that’s the case, it’s probably the last time I’m talking to you!)

Anyway, why even bring it up if it’s something I hate so much? Well, I’ve noticed that Traces of Death is celebrating it’s 15 year anniversary with a remastered box-set that promises MORE carnage! How delightful.

The thing is…as much as I despise these kind of films, I uphold the idea that they should be available and out there for folks who wish to see it. The idea of censorship doesn’t sit well with me. While it doesn’t mean that I, personally, want to see (or read) the offending material/video/book/CD, someone else in the world might wish to, and that is a right that we, as adults, should all enjoy.

The “Video Nasties”, a list of 72 banned films (which was composed in the United Kingdom in 1982) is home to more deranged and disgusting scenes that have lived mostly underground and have gone on to achieve “cult status” in some cases. Linky Here

I’ve seen three out of 72, and you know…that was enough. But again, that’s MY take on things. I prefer my horror to be more plot and/or character driven. Just because a movie is grotesque doesn’t make it scary. It makes it gross. It makes it foul. But it doesn’t take much cleverness and intelligence to show decapitations and dissections. There might be a time and place for showing such things, but it’s a sub-genre and does not represent all of horror.

So, there you are. If you like a good graphic bloody romp, have at it. For me, I’ll probably be firing up Burnt Offerings again. 🙂

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Article & Commentary

 

Okay. So far, American Horror Story: Cult is killing it. Yes, there is a political thread that binds the stories together, but there’s so much more than governmental bashing. The group of characters they’ve assembled are intriguing and bring intricate enough backstories that it makes me want to follow them. I can’t say I like each one, but that’s fine with me. I don’t have to like a persona in order to peak my interest.

I hope they continue in this vein. Please, AHS, don’t go off the rails like you did during the past two seasons. You’ve got something solid here. Stick with it.

And, in the spirit of horror on television, I’ve attached an article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society – May, 2016:

 

The Original Internet:

Television & All Its Horrors

Television is a marvel and a wonder, is it not? Over the past 70+ years, it has brought us The Beatles, the moon landing, the Viet Nam war, the hostage coverage in the 70s, among volumes of other news and popular events. It can be a tool for education, a device for entertainment, and a source for the latest happenings around the world. Although the internet has taken over as the venue for much of our information gathering (as well as entertainment), most of us in this country still own at least one television. If we don’t own one, we know someone who does.

According to the Archive of American Television (edited):

“Television was never one person’s vision — as early as the 1820s, the idea began to germinate.  Certainly by 1880, when a speculative article appeared in The Scientific American magazine, the concept of a working television system began to spread on an international scale. 

At the dawn of the twentieth century, there were a few American laboratories leading the way: Bell, RCA, and GE. In 1927, 21-year-old Philo T. Farnsworth produced the first electronic television picture.  This historic breakthrough catapulted him into a decades-long patent battle against major corporations, including RCA and CBS. RCA’s David Sarnoff brilliantly marketed this invention to the public and became known as the father of television — while Philo T. Farnsworth died in relative obscurity.

Experimental broadcast television began in the early 1930s, transmitting fuzzy images of wrestling, music and dance.  In 1939, the World’s Fair in New York, RCA unveiled their new NBC TV studios in Rockefeller Plaza. A few months later, William Paley’s CBS began broadcasting from its new TV studios in Grand Central Station.”

Why the history lesson? Because it is important to realize that from this early beginning, horror was also being broadcast into households across America. Television picked up where Orson Wells’ radio show, War of the Worlds, left off. (Keep an eyeball peeled for an article on Radio Horror in the future)

As early as the 1940’s, television line-ups included programs such as Dr. Death (1945), which was one of the earliest American dramatic series. It was a four-part thriller, one of the first mini-series to ever air. Suspense was another program (1949-1954), which also ran concurrently to its radio show of the same name. Some of the broadcasts were the same, but modified slightly for the differing formats.

Another television program that was adapted from its radio precursor was the crime drama thriller, Lights Out, which ran from 1946-1952. The terminology used to define some of these programs during the 30s, 40s, and 50s, was interchangeable. Suspense, thrillers, crime-drama, horror, and mystery were used rather loosely, so a listener or viewer might very well detect some overlap. While there still is some cross-over today, distinctions between these categories can carve out their own niche. These divisions can often be seen in literature as well. For example, there are lovers of mysteries; die-hard fans of the genre. But they will never delve into a horror tome no matter how hard they are pressed. The same goes for suspense, mystery, and thriller. While most people think of these terms as merely synonyms and interchangeable, others will stand firm, selecting from only one genre.

“Suspense is the state of waiting for something to happen.” – Alfred Hitchcock.

            “It “thrills” as one reads it. The plots are scary, the characters are at great risk and the novels are constructed in a manner that makes the reader really want to turn the page.” –Thriller Press

But let’s not get hung up on semantics here.

As we move into the 1950’s, the Crawford Mystery Theater (1951), was a show with a murder-mystery setting as its backdrop. It was also known as Public Prosecutor and originally filmed in 1947-1948, but not broadcast until a few years later. Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1953-1965), probably one of the most famous “horror” show from the past, was also known to give up-and-coming actors of the day, a start in the business. Twilight Zone (1959–1964), made forever famous by Rod Serling’s ubiquitous introduction, also enjoyed a mass following which continues to this day.

Thriller, hosted by Boris Karloff, ran from 1960-1962 and featured vignettes of crime, mystery, suspense or horror. Around the same time, One Step Beyond (1959-1961), hosted by John Newland, had some very disturbing and unsettling programs. I specifically remember this show as terrifying. I saw the show in reruns when I was around eight or nine, and I can still recall some of the plots and how they kept me up at night.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Outer Limits (1963-1965). This show leaned more toward science fiction than suspense or horror. Yet, for its time, some of the synopses were closely enough related to the bizarre to qualify as being a “scary show”. Leslie Stevens and Harlan Ellison, a name many of you might be familiar with, were the show’s creators.

The last one we’ll discuss is actually a British show, produced by the Hammer Film production company. It ran for one season (1968-1969), but was shown on American television, probably because it featured both British and American actors. The reason I mention this show, Journey to the Unknown, is because of the theme song and introduction.

The opening sequence shows a carnival at night. There are no people, but the rides are lit up and running. The camera moves throughout the rides in a disjointed, disorienting fashion as the musical score begins. It sounds like a heartbeat followed by an obscure whistled tune and finally becomes a full orchestrated song. This builds toward the climax which features horns, violins and timpani – screaming at a stinging pitch. The final one or two bars of music underscore the final visual: a rider-less roller coaster about to fly off the track. You can enjoy this creep fest here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ecwd_Ww8tHQ

While the episodes dealt with the supernatural or strange occurrences, they had a similar feel to the Twilight Zone or the more recent show, Tales From the Darkside (1983-1988, created by George Romero!). But to me, the most terrifying part of the show was the macabre opening. (It has stayed with me for over 45 years)

              Why reminisce about these old programs? The special effects of today far exceed anything mentioned in this article, so why bother to write about the past?

The answer is simple. If not for the past, we wouldn’t have the genre we know and love today. People like Rod Serling, Alfred Hitchcock, Arch Oboler, Boris Karloff, and Harlan Ellison paved the way; either by writing, directing, acting and/or creating a world of horror and suspense for the audiences of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s. While some readers of this article might never spend a single moment listening to old radio shows or watching reruns of these iconic shows (whether on YouTube or some other means), it is still important that we pay homage to what has come before.

You don’t have to like it, but it is critical to respect and admire what these people created with little money, few special effects, and very strict network censors. They are the for-bearers of The Walking Dead, American Horror Story, The X-Files and so many more.

 

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Article

Another article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society – May, 2016

 

Tales from the Crypts

 

Cemeteries, crypts, mausoleums, graves and tombs: society’s necessary destinations to some, though other individuals may prefer cremation as a choice for their final resting place. Each of these designations has its own long, rich, and historical past. Religious beliefs, financial means, personal preference, family traditions, and nobility all play a part as to where our remains will ultimately spend eternity.

 

Since, as the saying goes, none of us will get out of here alive, is it probably safe to say that everyone who has reached adulthood has had the opportunity or at least the necessity to visit one of these premises. Regardless of the reason (funeral, a memorial service or paying respects to a close family member or friend), we’ve all encountered a gravesite. While the event itself might have prompted tears or brought up fond memories, our society has had an odd relationship with the necropolis.

 

When it comes to eternal resting places, people tend to fall into one of three categories: They love them, they hate them, or they fear them.

 

Love ‘Em

There are those among us that relish a long afternoon stroll among the dead. These are the folks who pack a lunch, head out to their local cemetery and make a day of it. They see cemeteries as historical outdoor museums, filled with unknown stories and beautiful monuments. They walk along, read the inscriptions, and make paper tracings of etched engravings or carvings from the marble or stone markers, taking special note of a poem or saying.

 

These individuals don’t consider such places frightful – just the opposite. They might drive out of their way in order to visit a particularly old or ornate graveyard. They regard these sojourns as opportunities to learn, to examine, to bond with a part of the past. Their behavior is not borne out of depression or a secret wish to die, but rather a fascination with an historical landmark and with the people who were interned there.

 

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to lump the neutral-feeling folks in this group. These are the people that don’t necessarily make special trips to graveyards, but they do have a deep respect for the sacredness and humanity that emanates from such places. Whether out of piousness or a simple acknowledgment of the generations that have passed before them, this group takes a matter-of-fact stance – cemeteries and places of internment are necessities of life (and death).

 

Hate ‘Em

The second group, which I will classify as “the haters”, has their own perspective on the pervasive funerary grounds. When I refer to this particular group, I’m not necessarily stating that these people actively hate cemeteries – they don’t carry picket signs or write letters to the papers demanding their closure. Instead, these are the individuals who see these places as unnecessary; a wasteful use of land that could be used for the living.

 

Among this group are those who would rather be cremated than throw good money away. They see the purchase of a monument that no one will ever visit as a financial crime. They don’t believe in paying respects to a place holder – it has no meaning. Once a person dies, that’s it. Game over. For “the haters”, there is no point in expensive funeral costs, let alone doling out money for the price of a casket, grave marker or funerary services.

 

One of my uncles held this belief. Neither he, nor my aunt (his wife), has a plot, a marker or any lasting remnant from their passing. While there was a very brief service held when my aunt passed away, my uncle wanted nothing; not a service, not a gathering of any sort and certainly not a memorial urn. It was as if he wanted his life erased from everyone’s memory. I’m not certain why someone would go out of their way to nullify their life and discourage any remaining family members from any kind of farewell or closure, but there are those who feel this way.

 

However, not all people who choose cremation believe this. Some choose cremation for strictly financial reasons (cremation tends to be less expensive than a regular burial), spiritual solace or out of necessity. Any one of these, or a combination thereof, doesn’t mean that the person hates cemeteries or places of that ilk. It is only that cremation is more likely chosen if a person has a defiant attitude against such places.

 

Fear ‘Em

The third group constitutes the people who fear all types of burial grounds. Be it a cemetery, mausoleum, funeral home, ossuary, or a tiny country graveyard, these folks will do everything in their power to avoid contact. There is no love loss, yet they do not outright hate them. It’s a matter of unquestionable fright.

This revulsion may have a number of justifications. For example, some people suffer from coimetrophobia, the official term for a fear of cemeteries. Their fear may actually cause negative physical reactions. Some symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Heart palpitations
  • The inability to speak or think clearly

According to the website, http://www.fearofstuff.com/places/fear-of-cemeteries/, “fear of cemeteries is quite common. In the course of our lives, most of us encounter death, and it can be difficult to accept. This phobia is tied into the fear of mortality, perhaps the greatest phobia of all. When people with the fear of cemeteries see gravestones that mark the resting places of the dead, they may feel pangs of loss. They may remember loved ones who have passed, or simply be reminded that they too must die.”

Another reason, possibly best understood by the readers of this website, is the idea that cemeteries, morgues and funeral parlors have been used in literature, movies and television to represent places of horror and ghoulish activities. Hearing scary stories set in mist-filled cemeteries or visiting the famous ride at Orlando’s Disneyworld’s Haunted Mansion are two prime examples of how a foundation of fear can be created. If someone is inundated with macabre anecdotes about such places from an early age, that alone can be the catalyst for a lifetime of anxiety and unease. Whether a person will completely avoid all of these sites is difficult to predict, but an underlying fear can alter someone’s behavior for the rest of their life.

A third reason is probably the most basic and intuitive of all. Cemeteries and similar places can be reminders of our ultimate demise. Death, especially in our current society, is not something that we like to dwell upon if at all possible. Though we may understand it pragmatically, the fact that that every living thing will eventually perish, we don’t necessarily want to face it. Entering a mausoleum or a walking through a graveyard might make death a little too up close and personal for our liking.

According to the How Stuff Works website, “Biologically, fear exists as a response to stimuli that threatens our survival as a species. We’re programmed to fight or run from anything that might cause death, and we approach death itself with the same attitude. We flee from it every day by distancing it from our thoughts and lives. … we’ve handed the duties of interring the dead over to mortuary professionals, which limits our intimacy with death.”

Individuals that have this fear might not be as comfortable as their counterparts when it comes to all things death related. The unfortunate consequence however, is the obvious one. At some point, they, too, will have to encounter death in one form or another.

 

Where do you place yourself on this sliding scale? Do you love feeling the rough, cold headstones underneath your hands? Are you indifferent to the resting places of the dead? Or do you find your pace, as well as your pulse, quicken as you approach a mist-covered graveyard?

 

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Today is Stephen King’s birthday. He’s 70 years old and probably THE best known horror writer of our time. He will most likely be named along with Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley,  and Stoker, if he isn’t already.

From his Twitter post :

Back in the day, Paul Simon wrote, “How terribly strange to be 70.” He was right.

 

He has inspired countless movie directors, writers, playwrights, and surely a host of thousands of others to pick up their own gauntlet and create a piece of work. Thank YOU, Mr. King.

Here is a list of his novels. Other works can be found at: Stephen King

11/22/63 Scribner November, 2011
‘Salem’s Lot Doubleday October, 1975
‘Salem’s Lot Illustrated Edition Doubleday November, 2005
Bag of Bones Scribner September, 1998
Black House Random House September, 2001
Carrie Doubleday April, 1974
Cell Scribner January, 2006
Christine Viking Press April, 1983
The Colorado Kid Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. October, 2005
Cujo Viking Press September, 1981
Cycle of the Werewolf Signet April, 1985
The Dark Half Viking Press November, 1989
The Dark Tower: Song of Susannah Scribner June, 2004
The Dark Tower Scribner September, 2004
The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three Donald M. Grant, Publisher May, 1987
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (Revised) Viking Press June, 2003
The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Donald M. Grant, Publisher June, 1982
The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands Donald M. Grant, Publisher August, 1991
The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole Scribner April, 2012
The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass Donald M. Grant, Publisher November, 1997
The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla Scribner November, 2003
The Dead Zone Viking Press August, 1979
Desperation Viking Press 1996
Doctor Sleep Scribner 2013
Dolores Claiborne Viking Press 1993
Dreamcatcher Scribner March, 2001
Duma Key Scribner January, 2008
End of Watch Scribner June, 2016
The Eyes of the Dragon Viking Press February, 1987
Finders Keepers Scribner June, 2015
Firestarter Viking Press September, 1980
From A Buick 8 Scribner 2002
Gerald’s Game Viking Press 1992
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Scribner April, 1999
The Green Mile: Coffey on the Mile Signet August, 1996
The Green Mile: Coffey’s Hands Signet May, 1996
The Green Mile: Night Journey Signet July, 1996
The Green Mile: The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix Signet June, 1996
The Green Mile: The Complete Serial Novel Scribner 2000
The Green Mile: The Mouse on the Mile Signet April, 1996
The Green Mile: The Two Dead Girls Signet March, 1996
Insomnia Viking Press 1994
IT Viking Press September, 1986
Joyland Titan Books June, 2013
Joyland Illustrated Edition Hard Case Crime September, 2015
Lisey’s Story Scribner October, 2006
Misery Viking Press June, 1987
Mr. Mercedes Scribner June, 2014
Needful Things Viking Press 1991
Pet Sematary Doubleday 1983
Revival Scribner November, 2014
Rose Madder Viking Press 1995
The Shining Doubleday 1977
Sleeping Beauties Scribner September, 2017
The Stand Doubleday 1978
The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition Doubleday May, 1990
The Talisman G.P. Putnam’s & Sons November, 1984
The Tommyknockers G.P. Putnam’s & Sons November, 1987
Under the Dome Scribner November, 2009

 

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I cannot tell you how happy I was when I stopped over at Horrornews.net and saw that someone had written a review for The S from Hell. 

This movie is a brief (8 minute) pseudo-documentary loosely based on a mutated version of logophobia (a fear of words). Such a fear can cause a laundry list of symptoms, such as: breathlessness, excessive sweating, shaking, inability to think, feeling nauseated, panic attacks, paranoia and even a fear of death.

I have always been fascinated with “scary logos” because I remember seeing a number of these when I was growing up. I even wrote a short story about it in one of my books (In a Corner, Darkly: Volume 1). There was something creepy and disturbing about them and they have stuck around in my brain for the better part of 45 years.

The problem about these video logos is that, yes, they can be scary – it just depends on the particular person’s point of view. As an adult, witnessing these things probably amounts to a lot of nothing. But as a 4, 5, or 6 year old, the jarring sounds and the unsettling visuals can cast these clips in a whole different light.

Here is a rather complete list of the logos that struck fear into the hearts of kids in past decades: Linky Here.

If you so choose, simply google “scary logos” or “creepy television logos”. There are a number of websites, links, and video collections that provide other examples of what this fear/phobia is all about.

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 American Horror StoryLinky Here

In 2011, a new television show hit the air waves. It promised to be horrifying, edgy, and amazing. It’s first season, titled Murder House, was just that. From the opening credits to the final scene, I was enraptured. I had never seen anything quite like it – especially something made for television. This show was going to be epic in every sense of the word.

And, during that first season, it was. The atmosphere, the dialogue, and the characters were riveting. There was so much backstory hinted at during each episode, I couldn’t wait for the following week to see what was going to happen. Plots revolving around the haunted house touched on the 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, ghosts, depression, affairs, and more. If you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s really a game-changer for television horror.

I, along with most horror fans, anxiously awaited Season 2. In my opinion, it did not disappoint. Titled Asylum, the story mostly takes place in 1964 at Briarcliff Mental Institution, and is run by strict nuns who, we come to find out, have their own agendas. Once again, the characters are so believable, the viewer can’t help but empathize with at least some of them. It’s creepy. It’s solid. It’s my favorite season.

Once Season 3 airs (2013-2014), I detected a noticeable turn. The American Horror Story I had known over the past two years felt as if it had morphed from being a true horror show to something more like a drama-dy. Coven had some incredible moments – pretty startling, sometimes terrifying – but on the whole, it felt like a good portion of the show revolved around sorority pettiness.

Again, I was still pretty much on board and was looking forward to the season to follow: Freak Show (2014 – 2015).

If you own a television, you probably saw the ads for this. Twisty the Clown was the prominent figure in practically every commercial, and if you suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns – see article below), you probably hated these spots.

This is the season, for me, when A.H.S. completely diverged from being a “scary” show and went down a different path. Season 4 was sad, heartwarming, dramatic, and even depressing at times. But what about Twisty, the horrifying clown? Well, I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone, but commercials and lead-ups aren’t necessarily what they seem. If you’ve ever seen the Tod Browning movie Freaks (1932) Link, a high recommend by the way, you’ve basically covered the basics of season 4.

Season 5 & 6 – Hotel and Roanoke: I’m bunching these two together because I felt pretty much the exact same way about them – I was not amused. The premise of each started off promising – a haunted hotel and a documentary about disappearances in the 1500s in Roanoke County, respectively.

Once again, each season had some “moments”, but overall? I was bored. I didn’t look forward to 9pm Wednesday nights like I had with previous seasons. Since I see myself as a horror fan, I didn’t want to give up on the show. I almost felt it was a duty to see where they were going with the show, but as each season progressed, I only became more disillusioned. I would not recommend either Season 5 or 6. They aren’t scary. They drag on. The characters are kind of silly. I was actually hoping there wouldn’t be another season.

And yet, there is. Cult (2017), is set to premiere on September 5. Will I watch it? Yes, but it is with some trepidation. On January 12, 2017, the series was renewed for an eighth and ninth season set to air in 2018 and 2019, respectively. (this, from Wikipedia).

So, yeah – I’ll be there, watching. I only hope that Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (the creators) revert back to the good old days of 2011 and 2012 and give us some great stories, believable characters, and solid scares.

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Book Review – Part Two – Horror Show

Horror Show, by Greg Kihn, tells the story of Landis Woodley, a B-movie director from the 50s who would do anything in order to make a scary movie – the weirder, the better. When the reader first encounters him, it is in the present day. In order to nab the “real” story about a film-gone-wrong, a young journalist named Clint Stockbern, has come to Landis’s home for an interview with the now-reclusive director.

This sets us up to revert back to the 1950s for much of the rest of the book. We follow Landis and his crew as they crawl their way from B-movie status to B-movie lifestyle and back again. The last few chapters throw us back into present day with some wrap up and answers to questions. (no spoilers)

If you’ve ever watched old bad horror movies from the 50s and 60s, you might appreciate the path that Mr. Kihn has laid out in this 350 page novel. The characters were fairly believable, which was good since we spend a large portion of the time with them. The overall plot was nicely done as well. There was a good build up, so by the time they are making the pinnacle movie (and all that happens during it), I found myself “buying in”.

There are a few subplots which tie in and for the most part, I found them to work well within the confines of the main plot. There are a large number of secondary characters, so if you read it, pay close attention, especially during the first third of the novel.

Having said all that, I have to say that I found the writing itself to be a little…pedestrian? Is that fair? As I was reading it, I couldn’t help but think that this was very much someone’s first effort. Now, I am in NO position to PASS JUDGEMENT on someone else’s writing ability. I mean, seriously – I had to pull one of my own books and am re-doing it.

However, I found a good chunk of this book to be repetitive. He mentions the same qualities of his characters over and over and over again. In some of the chapters, I had the distinct feeling that I was reading the same passages twice or three times…because it felt like I was looking at the exact same wording that I had read earlier in the book.

I also didn’t really like any of the characters. I was interested in what happened because the plot made me want to see what the outcome would be. But I never found myself rooting for anyone in particular. While that can be fine (characters certainly don’t have to be likable for me to enjoy a book), I was hoping that I could at least care about one of them. And to be honest…nope. I didn’t. I’m glad I finished it to see what happened, but if there were a sequel to this book with some of the same characters, I don’t think I’d be on board.

Overall, I’m glad I read it. It was interesting to see a rock and roll guy try his hand at writing horror. That alone should make you consider reading it. But, if you’re looking for real horror that will make you keep your lights on and your doors locked, you might want to take a pass on this one.

Rating: 4 Scary Heads out of 10.

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Book Review – Part One – Horror Show

I was lucky (?) enough to have started college in August 1982, which was one year after MTV launched. (Yes, that makes me 53 for all you math wizards). I mention this because it was MTV was the catalyst for much of my knowledge regarding 80s music.

And if you were around in the 1980s and were into pop music of the day, you might be familiar with a man named Greg Kihn. He was the front man (and name sake) for a band that had been around since 1976. (The Greg Kihn Band)

Although I preferred the 50s and 60s, the music scene of the 1980s was heavily influenced by the video culture and visa-versa. And, generally speaking, the college years tend to be tightly wrapped into the music-of-the-day’s bed sheets. You couldn’t get away from it, even if you wanted to – Prince, Madonna, Robert Palmer, Michael Jackson, Huey Lewis, and Men at Work (just to name a few) – were EVERYWHERE.

So, what’s Mr. Kihn have to do with this? I mean, he had a couple of stand out hits during the early 80s  like Jeopardy and The Break-Up Song (also known as They Don’t Write Them Like That Anymore), but what does that have to do with writing, let alone horror?

Maybe you already know. But I was shocked to find out that not only is this 68 year old guy a musician and radio personality, but he is a writer as well.

A HORROR writer.

Naturally, I went to Amazon and ordered his book, Horror Show (1996).

Look for my review in the next 24 hours!

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Article

Here is another article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society Weblog – From June, 2016

Why Clowns Aren’t Funny (or scary)

 

I’ve never been a big fan of clowns. It’s not that I’m afraid of them (never was), nor do I find them endearing, charming, funny or delightful. For me, a clown represents over-the-top slapstick and exaggerated goofiness that goes beyond entertainment. I think it’s the combination of their greasy make-up and sophomoric behavior that makes them so distasteful to me. Even when I watched Bozo’s Circus as a child, I always preferred Cookie over the title clown himself, simply for the fact that Cookie wasn’t as theatrical and overly dramatic when on stage.

In the horror culture, clowns are wonderful tropes that elicit a deep-seeded fear that runs rampant in many people. Coulrophobia is a real thing. Twelve percent of people in the United States admit to suffering from this fear. According to Coulrophobia Facts,Scientists and doctors now agree that it is a result of not knowing who lies behind the excessive makeup, red nose and hair color.

This website also states that, “… clowns can also break social norms, their mask makes them able to do things that others can’t do socially, like interacting with unknown people at ease.

While it is true that movies and television have made certain clowns appear fanatical with their wild antics and vengeful conduct, I believe that these particular characters would be terrifying regardless of what they wore on their faces or how they were dressed.

In Stephen King’s novel, It, Pennywise (the clown) terrorizes children, luring them into the sewers with promises of fun and balloons only to shower them with their worst fears as the character It actually murders them. Now, let’s think about this for a minute. If any middle-aged man lured a child into harm’s way with candy or puppies, he would be regarded as a monster, as someone to be feared. Does it matter what his attire is at that moment? While dressing up as a clown might carry a little persuasive pull, using a cute animal or treats in order to trick a trusting kid should be seen as more hideous and heinous than simply wearing a costume.

Stephen King utilized coulrophobia quite well. In order to burrow into the readers’ psyche, he levied a creepy clown against a bunch of anxious kids. What we have been left with is a solid horror novel and a compelling movie. (and I hear they are going to remake IT in the near future) While the concept is brilliant for a writer to use, to play to peoples’ fears, I believe the real terror in the book goes much deeper. The characters in the novel fear Pennywise, but the ultimate dread actually revolves around the issues of abandonment and loneliness. Those are far more devastating, after all. (though not as fun to read, perhaps).

In the feature film, Poltergeist, another evil clown makes an unwelcome appearance. During this 1982 movie, “Robbie” (one of the child actors) sees the clown doll staring at him and, finding it creepy, covers the doll with his jacket. Later in the film when Robbie is about to go to bed he notices the clown is gone. He starts looking for it, looking under one side of the bed, only to see nothing. He checks the other side of the bed and sees nothing, but when he gets up the clown doll is behind him, grabbing his face before dragging him under the bed. The clown continues to choke him until Robbie fights back, ripping the clown doll’s stuffing out before bringing it on top of the bed and continuing to attack it before finally stopping.” 

Have you ever seen some of the dolls from the early 1900s in an antique store? Those dead-eye faces with gaping mouths are the epitome of disturbing. Yet, they are dressed in clothes of the day, usually in dresses with petticoats and a fancy coif. No greasepaint makeup or striped colored clown pants needed; they already posses an eerie vibe. If a little stuffed bear or bunny suddenly became animated and began choking the life out of your child, they would be seen as horrifying and a threat. It wasn’t the fact that a clown was hurting a young boy, but an object that was supposed to be inanimate.

Before Season 4 of American Horror Story aired, the commercial teases leading up to the premier episode revolved around snippets of Twisty the Clown in full mask regalia (in addition to other freaky clownish commercial bites). When the back-story is finally revealed, we learn that Twisty actually had a horrible life which ultimately led to his “taking up the exaggerated mask”. While he did kill along the way, his was a story that ended up more poignant than horrifying.

“Twisty was mentally handicapped. And given that he was the number one attraction at the local circus, some cruel and clever freaks spread a career- (and, for Twisty, life-) ruining rumor that he had been molesting the children who came to see his act.” He was also suicidal, and in a botched attempt to shoot himself in the head, he instead blew the lower half of his face off, resulting in his wearing the oversized grin (probably a shout-out to Mr Sardonicus: The Man Who Laughs).

So, what we really have in this case is a mutilated, disfigured, mentally handicapped man who made attempts at engaging with children, and when that didn’t work, took out his anger and frustration by murdering random innocents. Where is the real clown connection? Perhaps as a passing nod, he used a mask and makeup to cover up his mangled face while he chose to wear gaudy oversized clothes as homage to a profession of which he longed to be a part. But again, this guy would have been a societal nightmare regardless of what he wore or how he made up his face.

Was John Wayne Gacy a scary clown? No, he was an insane predator who used any means he could in order to destroy lives. He raped and killed 33 men and boys between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois (near Chicago). Known as “the clown who killed” by the media only helped to provoke people’s fear of clowns.

In two of the previously mentioned cases, it was the individual behind the grease paint and peculiar clothes who was actually to be feared. They could have just as easily portrayed themselves as sports figures or policemen. Either of these “costumes” could sway an innocent child and get them to follow along with a perpetrator’s requests. In these previously mentioned examples, the clowns represented the ultimate bait and switch. Instead of having clowns represent joy and humor with a bit of mischievous behavior thrown in, they became uglier and larger than life. They came to represent evil incarnate even though the same character could have been portrayed as any other persona with the same results.

Clowns can be many things: annoying, distasteful, exaggerated, goofy, overbearing and gratuitous. The two things they aren’t, however, are funny or scary. Leave the art of pratfalls and slapstick comedy to those who have finesse, such as Charlie Chaplin, Dick Van Dyke, John Cleese, and The Three Stooges. Leave the horror to the writers, directors and actors. And if you must, look to reality for the authentic terrors that plague the world –John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Compared to a list like that, clowns should just take their red noses, balloon animals and honking horns and go home.

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Leatherface Has His Day.

Linky Here to Leatherface!

So, if you don’t know what this refers to, allow me to suggest watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). This iconic movie (in horror circles) has created some of the most disturbing images and horrific concepts ever put on celluloid.

I’ve seen a number of nasty movies (Audition, Cannibal Holocaust, Salo). While these are sickening for a whole host of reasons I won’t get into at the moment, there was something more dire, more soulless, and more gut-wrenching in TCM than the others I mentioned.

After watching ALL of these movies (the three previously mentioned), I felt compelled to jump in the shower and scrub away the foul images I had witnessed; get them out of my system. I will never have a need to see Cannibal Holocaust or Salo again. Unfortunately, those movies are etched into my memory bank. That’s just the price of being a horror fan. You’re gonna see some dark ****.

But, back to TCM.

The scenes that hit me most hard were not of Leatherface chasing teen girls through the woods with his chainsaw. As a matter of fact, I found those segments to be pretty boring and redundant. It was the same thing over and over again – running, screaming, falling.

Ug. Snore. Wake me when it’s over.

But the dinner table scene? The final girl meeting the rest of the “family”? Nauseating. Looking at furniture made out of human bones, mobiles created from body parts dangling overhead, and sitting through scenes of vile and putrid situations came thisclose to my breaking point. Sure, these people are actors. They took the roles and for the most part, knew what they were in for, but in the end, it got a little much for everyone.

From the website Cracked:

They shot for 27 hours straight in that dining room in the middle of a Texas summer with temperatures outside reaching 110 degrees, so it was even hotter inside the house, since they blocked off the windows to keep out the light. If that wasn’t bad enough, there were also piles of festering head cheese on the dining room table that were originally just props, but pretty quickly made the rooms smell like a rotting carcass.

“It’s all worth it for what I’m sure will be a Best Picture nomination!”

All of these elements combined in a perfect mind-melting storm for the actors and crew. Gunnar Hansen, who played Leatherface, probably caught it the hardest. He was wearing a heavy leather mask that couldn’t be washed the entire shoot (that would cause continuity errors if stains vanished and reappeared in between shots), so he was essentially suffering in his own tiny, stinking oven. Supposedly he got so muddled from the heat that he thought he was actually supposed to kill Marilyn Burns.

In the scene where Leatherface cuts Burns’ finger so that the old man can suck her blood, the device that was supposed to release the fake blood clogged for several takes in a row. Hansen, whose mind was already broken and who was willing to do anything to get out of that room, turned away from everyone, removed the safety tape from the knife and then just cut open Marilyn’s finger for real.

 

So the question here is, will I watch the new movie?

Answer: Sure.

I’m a horror fan. That’s what we do.

 

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 Sad news in the world of horror –

George A. Romero passed today from lung cancer (July 16, 2017) at 77 years old. He was the creator of “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), as well as five other sequels.

If you never had the opportunity to see NOTLD, the ORIGINAL (yes, I know that others have been made since), do yourself a favor and check it out. Filmed in black and white in order to save on the filming budget, the first 10 minutes is classic in every sense of the word.

Apparently, Mr. Romero had said (in interviews), that all the political/racial/class “agendas” that were associated with the movie over the past 40+ years, were never intentional. He and his crew set out to make a horror movie – a good one. Made for $114,000, it has grossed over $30 million dollars (according to IMDB.com)

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 Article

Here is an article I wrote for The Grim Seer Society Weblog –  from July, 2016.

 

Victorian Horror: Steampunk

Between the goggles, leather corsets, top hats, and boots, this sub-genre has managed to burrow its way into popular culture, bringing with it a multitude of other, somewhat similar categories. Cyberpunk, dieselpunk, and decopunk are variations along the same stratosphere. The relative difference between these (and the many other divisions that exist) is the time frame on which they focus. As far as Steampunk and its entire ilk are concerned, the late 1800’s through the early 1900’s is where this alternative historical setting is most often found.

Steampunk: From the Victorian View

According to http://steampunk-horror.deviantart.com/, “Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan ‘What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner.’ It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes.” Under the heading of Steampunk itself, one can find quite a few sub-headings as well. As with any genre or sub-genre, the break down into smaller and smaller niche groups will happen over the course of time.

Steampunk, as a whole, is not a scary concept; nor was the Victorian Age, to be honest. The Victorian Age stretches from 1837 – 1901 and was named after Queen Victoria of England. People living during this period didn’t necessarily recognize their style of dress or current inventions like the fans of Steampunk do today. If societies were that self- aware, we might have never had to live through the big hair and annoying shoulder pads of the 1980’s.

Self-awareness aside, the concept of Steampunk as we now know it has so many facets that analyzing the genre as a whole might be viewed as rather generic and mundane. Because it encapsulates literature, music, fashion, furniture, décor, film and art, it is critical for us to narrow down a more palatable topic on which to focus.  So, for our purposes, let’s discuss one particular issue as we regard this classification: the joining of man and machine.

During the Victorian age, the steam engine was the great new technology. With its ear-splitting hiss and enormous iron body, this new source of power generated not only energy, but a fascination about its very concept. Fashion, art, and design all took their cues from the population’s enchantment with this new creation. Much like what happened in the 1950s when the space race was a driving force – signs, furniture, outfits, television shows, and even advertising all jumped on the proverbial bandwagon, incorporating space-type themes into their design campaigns and merchandise.

Steampunk does the same thing, only the time frame is skewed. According to Wikipedia, “Modern appropriation of Victorian styles: a contemporary counter-cultural trend called steampunk. Those who dress steampunk often wear Victorian-style clothing that has been ‘tweaked’ in edgy ways: tattered, distorted, melded with Goth fashion, Punk, and Rivethead styles. Another example of Victorian fashion being incorporated into a contemporary style is the Lolita Fashion.”

Steampunk Goes Mechanical

In the 1990’s, when everything Steampunk really started to enjoy a more mainstream following, (the term ‘steampunk’ was first mentioned by science-fiction author K.W. Jeter in 1987), our culture was well past the steam engine lifestyle. We were up to our modems in hi-tech computers and advanced technology, and continue to be so. However, there was (and still is) a magnetism and appeal to things of the past; in this case, the style, mechanisms, and fashion of the Victorian Era.

In the late 1800s, machines of all sorts were becoming more and more integrated into daily life. (http://theinventors.org/library/weekly/aa111100b.htm) In 1886, Gottlieb Daimler built the first four-wheeled motor vehicle. One year prior, Mr. Daimler invented the first gas-engine motorcycle. In 1892, Rudolf Diesel invents the diesel-fueled internal combustion engine. A few years earlier, the inventions of the typewriter, the elevator, the sewing machine, and the gramophone were first shared with the public. This was a time when man and machine began to merge, both in business and in personal/domestic life. It was the intermingling of these two very different entities that have brought about the horrific concept of man becoming machine.

Man Becoming Machine

The idea of flesh actually intertwining with gears, bolts and various metal mechanisms can be shocking. We are not referring to the injured or disfigured; those among us that use prosthetics to aid in mobility from a medical standpoint. Rather, what we are contemplating is the juxtaposition of mechanical parts with flesh and bone.

The Swiss surrealist painter, H.R. Giger, comes to mind. His works provide great illustrations of the concept ‘man becoming machine’.  Though not specifically “steampunk”, he combined humanistic faces or torsos with jutting tubes and elongated machinery. The idea of humans morphing into machines, whether by compliance or by force, can be seen as futuristically amazing or destructively horrifying. It depends on whose terms these alterations are being made.

During the Victorian age, as machines were ‘taking the place’ of what was once solely manpowered and human controlled jobs, these new devices could easily be seen as terrifying and a threat to the fabric of society. The fact that many of these new innovations were noisy, large and had the potential for injury only added to suspicions. If these inventions can do the jobs better and faster than people, who knew if the entire working population would simply be replaced? Or, going one step further, if mechanical devices are better on every front, why not just replace humans altogether?

Of course, many movies and books have dealt with this very topic from a variety of viewpoints. However, the melding of flesh and machine still retains a rather grotesque imagery. “He reached beneath where his bottom ribs would have curved, and lifted upward. I stared in utter amazement. No heart, no bone, no human ligament or vein. Inside a metal cage gears whirred and meshed. Wound springs intertwined with each other, and ticked off the slow measuring of his artificial life” (256). The steampunk grotesque emerges from techno fantasy, thus some mad scientist or inventor has assembled the machine/monster by hand.” http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1162&context=english_theses

The notion that gears, springs, sprockets and wheels are somehow adhered to a human being, not for any medical purpose, but instead to create a ‘new entity’ is somewhat alarming. Mechanical devices substituting for body parts can easily enough lead to robotics controlling our thoughts and movements. Free will would no longer exist. Human connection and all of its components would no longer be necessary. Nothing in the world would have feelings, emotions or heart, with the exceptions of animals. And eventually, even the animals might ultimately be mechanically controlled.

“A grotesque form is one of partial confusion, not complete confusion. If we can at least partially identify elements of the object, if ‘we have an inkling of the unity and character in the midst of the strangeness of the form, then we have the grotesque. It is the half-formed, the perplexed, and the suggestively monstrous’ (193-4).”  http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1162&context=english_theses

Where is the Cutoff?

It is this very idea, human becoming something unnatural, which has horrified society for eons. We can see examples of this in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” (pieces of corpses shouldn’t come back to life), Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (once dead, stay dead), and The Fly (1958 or 1986 version – man turning into insect). Even in these cases, as scary as they were during their time, at least the human turned into a form of some kind of animal being. Turning into a fly (or part fly) is unfathomable, but at its core, the change takes place between one living creature evolving into another.

With Steampunk Horror, man’s eventual evolution is not reforming into another sentient being, but instead into something inhuman. What percentage of flesh and blood is required in order to consider something either a creature of humanity or as a robotic machine?

Being just another cog in the wheel would take on a whole different meaning.

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