Welcome

“Talley is wonderful at crafting suspense.” –Kirkus Reviews

Hello, and welcome to my website.  My name is Brett J. Talley and I’m the Bram Stoker Award Nominated author of That Which Should Not Be, He Who Walks In ShadowThe Voidand numerous other novellas and short stories.   Here you’ll find reviews of my books, updates on what I’m doing, my published short stories, and my reviews of books and horror movies.

Stay awhile, but remember.  There is darkness in this world. Beware the shadows!

As seen in the Washington Post.

If you are interested in JournalStone, the publishing company that made all this possible, visit them at www.journalstone.com!

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Pontypool

Watched a neat little horror movie on Netflix recently called Pontypool. The movie tells the story of the eponymous town of Pontypool  and a bizarre virus that is spreading through the community, causing widespread chaos and rioting. But this is not your typical zombie (infected) flick. The vast majority of the story is told from a small, isolated radio station where the station’s manager, production assistant, and star D.J. are hold up, describing to the listeners what they are hearing from reporters in the field. Adding to the interesting take (spoilers ahead), the virus is transmitted by words rather than microbes, a nice twist on the notion that words can induce action in the people who hear them. Good movie. I recommend it. 

4 Stars

Bonus: The first lines may be the best part of the movie. I reproduce them here.

Grant Mazzy: Mrs. French’s cat is missing. The signs are posted all over town. “Have you seen Honey?” We’ve all seen the posters, but nobody has seen Honey the cat. Nobody. Until last Thursday morning, when Miss Colette Piscine swerved her car to miss Honey the cat as she drove across a bridge. Well this bridge, now slightly damaged, is a bit of a local treasure and even has its own fancy name; Pont de Flaque. Now Collette, that sounds like Culotte. That’s Panty in French. And Piscine means Pool. Panty pool. Flaque also means pool in French, so Colete Piscine, in French Panty Pool, drives over the Pont de Flaque, the Pont de Pool if you will, to avoid hitting Mrs. French’s cat that has been missing in Pontypool. Pontypool. Pontypool. Panty pool. Pont de Flaque. What does it mean? Well, Norman Mailer, he had an interesting theory that he used to explain the strange coincidences in the aftermath of the JFK assasination. In the wake of huge events, after them and before them, physical details they spasm for a moment; they sort of unlock and when they come back into focus they suddenly coincide in a weird way. Street names and birthdates and middle names, all kind of superfluous things appear related to each other. It’s a ripple effect. So, what does it mean? Well… it means something’s going to happen. Something big. But then, something’s always about to happen.

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Paranormal Activity III

Since the breakout success of The Blair Witch Project, the first person horror genre has been on fire. The technique pulls the viewer into the action. We see only what the camera sees, and when the protagonist is behind it, we become the center of the movie. Granted, it requires some suspension of disbelief. Movies like Cloverfield require us to accept that during a disaster, people would continuously film the action. The original Paranormal Activity managed to avoid that problem in a very simple way—a family is being haunted, and they want to know why. They set up cameras and record what happens. It was a fairly brilliant premise, and it made a lot of money. Sequels were inevitable, and so we have Paranormal Activity III.

Is PAIII as good as the original? Not quite. For one, this time we know the formula, and the producer’s decision to continue focusing on the same family instead of branching out seems like a mistake. What we learn about Katie and Kristi doesn’t really add anything to the story and borders on unbelievable. Moreover, whereas Paranormal Activity did its best to avoid the problem of having a character continue to film in unbelievable situations, PAIII decides to throw that restraint aside and rely on suspension of disbelief. At times, the movie takes it too far.

Having said that though, PAIII offers some great scares. The actors are first rate, and we really believe we are watching real people in real situations. The addition of the camera on the oscillating fan is simply tremendous, and as the camera swings back and forth, the sense of anticipation is heightened, whether anything is waiting for us as the camera moves along its path or not. PAIII is a tense film, and every time a new night falls, we know that the demon is waiting. A good movie for horror fans.

4 Stars

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Captivity

This review will be a short one. Captivity is a terrible movie. It’s not just bad; it’s not enjoyable at all. And frankly, it’s a disgraceful film that does damage to the entire genre. Fortunately, few people saw it, so I expect its impact is minimal. If you take anything away from this review let it be this: there is nothing good about this movie. It is irredeemable, boring, and a complete waste of time. It’s not funny. It’s not so bad its good. It’s just bad and not worth the two hours of your life that you will never get back.

This is normally the part where I talk about the plot. That’s because most movies have one. Not so with Captivity . Basically, we begin with model Jennifer Tree (Elisha Cuthbert), a cardboard cutout character if there ever was one, being kidnapped by an unknown assailant. Then begins an hour of psychological and physical torture. Ah, but there is a twist. There is another captive, Gary (Daniel Gillies). Together they try and stay alive and escape their captor.

Everything about this movie is terrible. The acting is over the top and ridiculous. The writing doesn’t help matters either. The story is incredibly banal at times and stupid at others. For the first hour, we are subjected to pointless torture scenes interspersed with idiotic dialogue between our two victims. After a “twist” that you may or may not see coming (does it matter?) the tone of the movie shifts dramatically. Were it a better movie and were this shift accomplished in a more competent way, I might have been impressed. Instead, the change is simply jarring, and even more boring than before. And here is where I give the whole movie away, so if you still want to watch stop reading now. Gary is in on it. He and his brother Ben (Pruitt Taylor Vance, normally a bit player for a reason) kidnap women and torture them for their sexual jollies. After Ben sleeps with them, they kill them. Except this time, Gary is in love. When the cops show up he kills his brother and tries to frame the murders on him. After a few boring scenes of cat and mouse, Jennifer gets the better of him. But her experience has changed her, and in the final scenes we learn that she has begun to kidnap serial killers and torture them as her means of cosmic revenge. So there. Now you don’t even have to watch this trash.

Something Else To Watch For

The part where she drinks blended human is at least different.

ZERO Stars

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

It is hard to make good horror. We have all loved, and we have laughed, but few of us have experienced true terror. We do not know it, and moreover, we do not really want to know it. We do not want to find ourselves in mortal danger. In order to make good horror, then, a filmmaker must have the ability to seize on that which terrifies us while delivering it in such a way that is sufficiently removed from reality. Most filmmakers go too far in one direction or the other, creating a product that is either campishly over the top or not horrific at all. The best directors, however, straddle this line, and push viewers to the very edge of what they can tolerate, producing the very best in the genre.

Wes Craven is one of these directors. Because he is so good at pushing the boundaries, he occasionally creates films that are too disturbing to be entertaining in any way. The paramount example of this kind of filmmaking is The Last House on the Left, a film so gruesome and so disturbing that it is barely watchable. Its intense horror comes from its realism. There is no doubt that what is depicted on the screen has happened before and will happen again. As a window into the darkness of man’s soul it is terrifyingly effective, but it may very well push the boundaries too far, making it less valuable as a film given that most people cannot make it through the entire movie without walking out in disgust. In The Hills Have Eyes, Craven steps back from the precipice and gives us an effort that is sufficiently removed from reality as to be terrifying while still watchable and enjoyable. This film might well have been remembered as Craven’s best. But then he had a dream that turned into a nightmare, and he made that nightmare into one of the scariest films of all time.

A Nightmare on Elm Street takes two simple premises and puts them together to create the greatest horror story ever told. The first is the bogeyman, old as time immemorial, the personification of the dark uncertainty that haunts our childhood, lurking behind every closet door and under every bed. Secondly, dreams, the palette of the mind where we are often lost in a fantasy world where anything can and does happen. Normally dreams are mere fragments, but sometimes they are so real and so vivid as to be barely distinguishable from reality. What if, in those instances, we were to die, caught up by the bogeyman who exists only in such a world of fantasy? Might that death translate into the real world as well?

Wes Craven took this idea and ran with it, combining the faceless killing machine of films like Halloween, combined it with the bogeyman of lore, and created Freddy Kruger. The spirit of a horribly burned dead child murderer, Freddy inhabits the dreams of the children of Springwood, drawing his strength from their fear. Freddy has a lot of Krug Stillo from Last House on the Left in him, but with a sly humor that cuts the edge off of the dark evil of that character’s persona.

The story begins with Nancy (Heather Langenkamp), Glen (Johnny Depp) Tina (Amanda Wyss), and Rod (Nick Corri), four teenage high school friends, discovering that they are all afflicted with strangely similar nightmares. When one of them is murdered in bizarre and grizzly fashion and another is accused of the slaying, they begin to explore the origins of that which hunts them, in the hopes that by doing so they might discover some weakness of Freddy’s that they can exploit.

While there are no Oscar worthy performances in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the young actors acquit themselves quite admirably. They each inhabit their characters with ease, helping us to experience their fear and confusion. Heather Langenkamp, who would go on to appear in two Nightmare sequels, is thoroughly convincing as a young teenage struggling to survive another night while simultaneously convincing the world around her that she is not insane. Johnny Depp, appearing in his first motion picture, shows flashes of the brilliance that would come to define his career while playing Langenkamp’s boyfriend and sidekick, Glen. Finally, Robert Englund gives a career defining performance as psychotically twisted killer, Freddy Kruger. By adding a personality to Freddy, Englund redefined a genre that had been dominated by the silent, robot like killer.

The atmosphere of the movie is superbly developed. The dream sequences are appropriately surreal, filled with obscuring mists and eerie non-sequitors such as animals in places they should not be, people who act as though they are possessed, and school stairways that lead to factory boiler rooms. Moreover, we are never quite sure where dreams end and the real world begins. This blurring of reality even opens the possibility that the entire film is a dream, an eternal nightmare locked in the insanity of Nancy’s mind.

I cannot recommend A Nightmare on Elm Street with too much zeal. It is one of the few movies that truly terrified me when I first saw it, and it still holds the power to frighten me to this day. In the case of most horror movies, the evil that is personified on screen can be easily avoided. Don’t go in the old run down house. Don’t read the Latin words in the old musty book. Don’t travel to Transylvania. But we must all sleep, and in doing so, we put ourselves at the mercy of forces we cannot control and whose power, in the dream realm at least, is absolute.

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Happy Halloween

The day has come. The time is here.

Tis the night—the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!

― Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt

I hope you all have a happy and joyous Halloween. And here is my treat for you: my story, “Nemesis”, from my collection, The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge. Enjoy.

Nemesis

I must write quickly. The candle is dying even now and I can hear them waiting, just beyond the circle of the light.

The coming of Nemesis was a cause for celebration. Since men first looked to the sky and understood it, we had wondered if there was a world beyond the ones we know. Something to account for the wobble in Neptune’s orbit. An answer to what titanic love affair had left Uranus to roll forever on its side. A Planet X, a Niburu, a Yuggoth. Yet in the end, it was not a planet that haunted the edge of the solar system, but a star. A dark, dead star. Black as the void and almost as hard to see.

It was a chance scan by an infrared camera on Voyager III that found it. The experts, of course, didn’t call it by any of the names the ancients had known. To them, it was Tyche, not an enemy to be cursed but a friend to be welcomed. And so, when I taught my 11th grade science class about its coming, I told them they had nothing to fear.

The black dwarf’s orbit took it deep into space, far beyond even tiny Pluto, and for thousands of years it remained but a myth. But now it was coming. A great, dark mass in the sky, one that would blot out the stars until, in an event not seen since the plains of Giza were thick with verdant foliage and echoed with rushing streams, Tyche would blot out the sun as well…

And we would celebrate, the world all over. Muslim and Jew, Christian and Atheist, every race and every people, united by an event so stupendous, so rare, that it might never come again. Not, at least, while mankind still exercised dominion over the earth.

Scientists couldn’t even say how long this before-unimagined eclipse would last. Only that it would cover the sun completely for at least a few hours, maybe as long as a day.

And so events were planned. Twilight festivals to embrace the coming dark. We walked into that stygian night with arms wide open. We came to embrace the void. We did not fear the dark, not this time, not anymore.

What madness took hold of us? What fiendish power corrupted our minds? I suppose we will never know, though I have my suppositions. I will always believe that that black orb cast down more than darkness on the surface of the earth, even before they came.

Were there some who dissented? I’m sure there were many. But there was only one in our town. One man who did not fall under Tyche’s sway. Only one who called what was coming by its own name.

I knew Bill Atwood for nearly a decade. That he taught astronomy and physics at the local college belied his immense stature in the world of academia. At least, the stature he had once maintained. Before he came to our little town in the shadow of the Rockies, he had been a professor of some renown at a prestigious school back East. A scandal had led to his fall from grace and departure from Massachusetts, something about bizarre and controversial views that did not comport with the standard model of the universe or the accepted story of human history, views that he was not shy about sharing. I had heard the end came when his obsession turned to violence and he assaulted the Dean of Sciences at his former employer. That incident had led to his journey west, led him to a place where a struggling college was willing to look the other way in order to hire a man of his expertise. And yet, despite his reputation, I had never personally heard Professor Atwood express any unorthodox views. Not until the coming of Nemesis.

For that is its name, Nemesis. Atwood told me as much. Atwood knew the truth. If only we had listened. But what difference would it have made? Who can stand in the face of such darkness?

I saw him that day, the last day I guess anyone saw him. He was coming out of the grocery store, his cart loaded down with canned food, bottled water, candles. These weren’t supplies for holding a celebration, but for surviving a siege.

“Bill?” I said, and I was unable to mask the concern in my voice. When he looked up at me, in his eyes I saw a desperate man. He grasped my arm.

“Howard,” he said. He was agitated. Nervous. Afraid. But more than that. He was terrified. “You’ve always been kind to me. Now I’m going to return the favor. Get out while you can. Find a place to hide.”

“Professor,” I said, “I’m afraid I don’t understand. The festival…”

“This is no time to celebrate!” he almost screamed. I glanced around nervously to see if others were watching. They were, and without approval. “Don’t you understand? It’s all been written. It’s all been predicted. They are coming. I tried to warn the others, but they wouldn’t listen. Not that it matters…” His speech trailed off, his eyes following. “There’s nothing that can stop them. Not then. And not now.

“I have a storm shelter,” he said, looking back up at me. “It’s not much, but it might be enough. You can come with me. There is plenty of room.”

“Thank you, but that’s alright, Professor,” I said, trying to humor him. Trying to be kind. He reached into his basket and pulled out a votive candle. “Take it,” he said. “A guard against the night.”

“No, Professor, I can’t…”

“Take it! In the end it probably won’t matter. But maybe it will buy you enough time.” He gestured at me with the glass-encased candle, and this time I didn’t protest. He nodded to me once more, and then he was gone, leaving me standing at the entrance of the Save ‘n Shop, candle in hand.

I write by that candle now, though I know not for how much longer it will last. Just as I do not know for how long the darkness will hold sway. Too long, no doubt.

The day of the festival was as clear and bright as any I could remember. A perfect blue sky spread above us, unblemished, but for the dark circle of night that seemed to grow larger with every second.

It rolled through the void toward us, blocking out the sky with its great, dark mass. I stood at the base of College Hill while many more waited on its crown, staring up at that coming darkness.

“It’s so awesome!” a little boy squealed.

“Yeah, it sure is,” a man, his father I assumed, said in answer, cheerfully. And yet, the smallest doubt had crept into his voice. I felt it, too. For the first time, I wondered. But still I stood there, gazing up into the circle of night that slowly devoured the sky.

It was noon when it reached the sun, which sat upon its throne at the apex of the blue dome above us, bathing us in its light as it had since when the earth was devoid of life. We gazed up as the edge of that flat circle of light clashed with the darkness of another. We watched as that greater darkness covered the lesser light. Watched as the sun vanished behind an impenetrable shroud.

A shadow fell over us all. It crept over the town, fingers of night wrapping around homes and stores and schools. It marched up the hill, gaining strength as our star’s power diminished. I stared at the sun, a fading disk that no doubt seared the edge of my retina. But I could not look away, any more than a man can look away as the love of his life drives off into the distance, never to be seen again.

I had to experience this, even if I didn’t understand. I had to watch, even if I didn’t see. I had to bear witness as the first chapter of Genesis was undone. As the second darkness fell upon the surface of the earth. As God said, “Let there be night.” But not God. Something else. Something else entirely.

The end began with a sound. Though that’s not really the right word. It was more like a buzzing, something that was felt more than heard. A low, inaudible murmur, just beyond the range of man’s hearing.

But then there was something that we did hear. A cry, a wail, a piteous howling, more desperate than any I’d ever heard before. It was the dogs, you see. It was as if every dog in town was suddenly struck by such pain or sorrow that they could not bear it but by calling out to the world in the only way they knew how.

The sound unsettled the children. It unsettled the adults, too, but they tried to keep a brave face. Reassurances were given. Soothing words spoken that, to my ears at least, lacked conviction.

It was after the howl of the dogs had ceased that we first saw it. The night was dark, and Nemesis was darker. And yet as that black mass hung in the sky, I began to believe that I could make out something curling off of the dead star’s surface. Smoke-like tendrils seemed to reach toward us. Tentacles of swirling mist drifted down from the beyond and spread across the sky. The noonday stars that had seemingly winked into existence as the sun’s rays faded were extinguished. And then something even stranger happened. The lights of the city— the street lamps, the storefronts, even the white Christmas bulbs that decorated the stage on College Hill—began to flicker and fade until, one by one, they all went out. The darkness that had covered the sky now covered the earth.

Panic was in the air. The voice of the crowd gibbered and murmured as fear spread through us all. And yet still we clung to the belief that this was nothing unusual, and that even if it was, it too would pass in good time. That belief was broken when we heard the first scream.

It seemed to fall down from the summit above to those of us who could get no closer than the base of College Hill. It was on that summit that the breath of Nemesis now alighted, where, as impossible as it seemed, the shimmering tendrils of darkness that drifted down from it now touched. I suppose when we heard the first cry that it should have snapped nerves already on edge, should have sent us screaming into the night. Instead it froze us in place and caused all of us to glance toward our neighbors for assurances, even as they were hidden from our view.

It was a scream like a whistle on a freight train passing through a town at rush hour. It never really stopped, only took a breath to reload. It seemed to grow closer, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw a man running toward us. He was the one screaming. The sound of it curved along the Doppler Effect as he ran to me and past me, his wail carrying into the night. Then there was movement. You could sense it as much as see it. The crowd at the top of the hill was frothing, bulging and contracting, pushing against itself, spilling down the slope.

What was one scream became a thousand.

The people around me began to run, picking up their children and going. But in the darkness they could not see. Many fell, never to rise again, crushed beneath the boots and heels and tennis shoes of their neighbors. I could not move, paralyzed by fear and wonder and even curiosity. I stood there as the wave of terrified men and women and children broke around me, surging down the hill and into town, fleeing without direction or thought, knowing, like a herd of hunted prey, that they must escape, must get away. I don’t know why I stayed. Perhaps because I sensed that something was coming, something I needed to see.

And see it I did, though I can’t say even now exactly what it was. At first I saw only the carnage it wrought, as one might look upon a tree snapped by the wind. Bodies were ripped asunder before me, torn or sliced or twisted apart as if by impossibly powerful and unseen hands. I staggered back, until finally I was sprinting full speed after those who’d gone before.

It was only when I chanced a glance over a shoulder that I saw one, and only then in the corner of my eye (I wonder now if we can see them otherwise, if perhaps to look upon them fully would break something in the mind). It was madness made reality, shadow given form, something made of nothing.

A thing that walked when it should have crawled.

How to describe what shouldn’t exist in a sane world? Even to try is to struggle against our rational boundaries. It was a creature made of sharp and impossible angles, a being of form unknown to man even in the worst nightmares of the insane. I watched as its scythe-like arms sliced through body and bone, as its titanic empty maw devoured the living and the dead. And it was not just one. It was legion.

I ran on, but there was no escaping the things that came from the sky, no escaping Nemesis as it poured out its hate.

I fled as my friends and neighbors were consumed by a dark fire that covered all. Somehow I found my way, stumbling through empty alleys and naked corridors, back here, to my home, to my study, to what may be the final source of light in all the world. The flickering flame of a candle, all that’s left to hold back the night.

I know my time is short. As I’ve written this, the shrieks and screams and pleas for help and mercy that filled the streets beyond my door have fallen silent. And now they have come for me. They wait, just beyond the circle of the light, swirling, snarling, hating. Thirsting for my blood, my pain, my death. They creep forward as the light retreats, and my candle is all but gone. I will write until I can write no more. I hope that others survived this. I pray that someone will live to see a new day, that they will find this testament of one who did not believe.

But if not, then if some other creature should come upon it and decipher the meaning of it, they will know that not all stars give life, and that not all life is meant to walk within the light.

The candle flutters. I can sense them now. Hear them. I can feel their claws upon my back, taste the hate upon their breath, hear their frenzy for my doom.

The light is fai     

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Why do we love horror?

Why do we love horror? What draws us to it? Why do we spend the entire month of October celebrating it, culminating in Halloween, a holiday where we dress up like the dead and the demons of our worst nightmares?

Someone who doesn’t understand, or who has never really thought about it, might even call it masochistic. Why put yourself through that? We try to avoid pain. We try to avoid danger. We try to keep ourselves safe and secure and away from threats. And yet horror is all about exposing ourselves to exactly that.

People often say that we like to be scared, that we like to put ourselves in simulated danger, to face the terrors that we try so hard to avoid in life. But that’s sort of begging the question, isn’t it? It’s not the why. Is it as simple as a release of adrenaline? A cheap, chemical high? Or is it deeper?

H.P. Lovecraft said that “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Not only was he right, but I think he put his finger on something deeper. Yes, we want to be safe. We want to be secure. We want to be away from danger. And that’s all well and good–most of the time.

But it’s not the kind of thing that makes you feel alive. Safety doesn’t challenge you. Security does not inspire. We’ve spent so much time and effort trying to insulate ourselves from the world that we lose some of our humanity in the process. It’s the same reason people jump out of perfectly good airplanes or climb mountains for no other reason than to get to the top. We are a species that’s meant to challenge ourselves, to press our boundaries, to look fear and death in the face and not flinch. And horror asks us to do just that.

Horror is too often treated like a second-class genre, but it’s so much more. Comedy is fun. Drama is…dramatic. But only horror asks us to face our existential fear and overcome it. Death is inevitable, but defeat is not. We face death and fight it even though we cannot overcome it. Even though we are destined to fail in the end. So it is in horror.

You cannot defeat Freddy Krueger. Jason cannot die. Cthulhu’s rise is inevitable. But we rage against them, regardless. We rage against the dying of the light. That’s horror, and it’s why we love it.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): More Horror Shorts

Yesterday, I re-posted one of my favorite entries on short horror films. I liked it so much, I’ve gone back into the ethos to bring even more short horror to you. Enjoy.

Whisper

A simple concept that I’m surprised I’ve never seen before, Whisper will have you ditching your smart speaker.

I Heard It, Too

You’ve probably read the two sentence horror story, and here it is put to film in this creepy short. Cute kids always get me, man.

Mikus

Sometimes childhood is best left behind. Not a lot happens here that will surprise you, but a fun ride nonetheless.

The Midnight Jester

Clowns, am I right? I feel sorry for real clowns, just out there trying to do their clown thing and make people laugh. This clown? Not so funny.

The Smiling Man

This short is just freaky. Once again. Kids.

One Last Dive

The shortest short on the list.

He Dies at the End

This one is both funny and clever.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Best Horror Shorts

Possibly my favorite post I’ve ever done was on horror shorts. Seriously, these 3 to 10 minute films are better than half of what you find in theaters today. Enjoy.

5. The Jigsaw

Based on a classic story of horror, The Jigsaw is a delightfully creepy film that combines some of my favorite horror tropes: storms, old-timey records, and haunted objects.

4. Cargo

A short so good they made a full-length film out of it, but I can’t imagine what a movie could do that this short doesn’t accomplish.

3.  The Birch

“The Birch” might have been even higher on this list were it not for the fact it’s very short. But what we see is powerful. A grandmother shares an old book and even older knowledge to her grandson. When he goes looking for it, he finds his grandmother’s stories are truth. Created by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, the creature design in this short is better than many big budget films. Not to be missed.

2.  Don’t Move

When you screw around with Ouija boards, sometimes you call up things you can’t control. The rules are set from the beginning of this shot flick, so you know what’s coming, but not to whom. Also by Ben Franklin and Anthony Melton, this film features more tremendous creature design, and is probably the most complete story on the list.

1.  The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow

“The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow” is an absolute masterpiece. There are more frightening entries in this list, there are entries that depict better creature design, but for shear inventiveness and wonder, it takes the cake. There’s so much going on beyond what we see, and if the best horror stories are generated in our own minds out of the unknown and mysterious, this film stands alone. Watch it again and again, and you’ll see new things every time.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): The Horror that Made Us

Children are impressionable. I say this not as a father but as a human being. The older I get, the more I realize just how impressionable they are. The nature vs nurture debate is eternal, but one thing of which I am sure is this–the horror that I watched and read as a child shaped me, more than I could have ever imagined.

Just seeing the covers of the books makes me nostalgic.

I find myself, to this day, thinking of certain of these experiences. There was R.L. Stein, that most prolific of horror authors for children and pre-teens. Goosebumps made him famous, but it was Fear Street that I walked down. The stories followed a fairly predictable pattern, and it was never difficult to figure out who the killer was. But to these young eyes, every book was wonderful, and I couldn’t wait to pick up the next one at Wal-Mart. I probably read every single one of them before I was finished.

There was “The Raft,” the second story on the second Creepshow. Some college kids head out to a nondescript lake to go for a late summer swim. They get to the raft in the middle just ahead of what looks like an oil-slick floating across the water. But they learn soon it’s so much more than that, and they may not escape with their lives.

To this day, I don’t like swimming in lakes. Can’t imagine why.

There was “Where the Summer Ends,” a short story by Karl Edward Wagner that I read in a book called Nightmares in Dixie. I’d picked it up in my elementary school library. Pretty sure the librarians had never read that one, cause if they had, it wouldn’t have stayed on the shelves. The story was about the things that live in kudzu, the ubiquitous plant that seems to cover half of the south. It borrowed into my mind like crawling vines, and it never let go. For decades, I thought about that story, never knowing who had written it, until I came upon it for a panel I was preparing for at a horror conference. It felt like coming home.

I wonder sometimes whether revisiting these childhood memories would be a mistake. I’m sure the Fear Street books no longer hang together. The acting and special effects in “The Raft” are probably terrible. The It miniseries that shocked me as a child would probably bore me now. (Though “Where the Summer Ends” is as good as ever).

But that’s not what matters. What matters is the impression they left, and the gift that they gave, a gift that has lasted a lifetime.

The lesson? Share your love of horror with your children. You never know what may start from small beginnings.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): The Best Horror Movies of the Decade

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times–we are living in the golden age of horror. And as this decade rolls to an end (I know, I know, 2020 is technically part of it), what better time than now to take a look back on five of the very best movies of the 2010s.

In no particular order…

It Follows (2014)

Horror movies have often had something to say about our society’s sexual mores, but its rare to have a full on allegory for sexually transmitted disease. But that’s what we get in It Follows. Though it’s far more compelling than I just made it sound, promise.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

It’s likely you’ve never heard of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It’s time to remedy that. The only movie on this list you’ll have to read to watch, Girl tells the story of an Iranian vampire trying to make it in the modern world. Every scene is brilliant and beautiful all at once.

The Babadook (2014)

What can I say? 2014 was a good year. Now that I have a child of my own, the true horror of The Babadook hits me with its full force. The movie is frightening, regardless of your place in life, with the kind of rising, creeping horror that I’ve always loved. But the true horror is in raising your kids, in seeing your own youth fade away, in hoping that you are doing right by them, and feeling every day that you are failing. Bleak man, I know.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

When you go meta, you never know if it’s going to work out. Loving references and homages can slip into parody in an unskilled hand, but there’s nothing to worry about here. Cabin in the Woods is a near perfect movie, with innumerable references to classic horror. It never drifts into parody, and it is always loving in its treatment of the genre. Is it a little bleak? Yes, yes it it. Do we end up rooting for the world to end? Yes, yes we do. But 2011 was a dark time. Fortunately, everything is better now.

Get Out (2017)

I say no particular order, but Get Out may be my favorite movie of the last ten years. The best horror films often have a message, and Get Out is no different, skewering race relations in America in a way that will make you squirm, no matter what your political persuasion. But this is not a movie that preaches at you while you roll your eyes and wait for something horrific to happen. Get Out is creepy from the word go, and it never lets up. Not just one of the best horror movies of the decade. One of the best horror movies ever made.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Songs about Werewolves

The eternal fight between vampires and werewolves, played out across bad movies, tween books, and graphic novels. We had a day dedicated to the best songs about vampires. Now let’s hear it for the werewolves.

A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard by Jeremy Messersmith

I’m probably cheating a little bit here, as “A Girl, a Boy, and a Graveyard” isn’t really about werewolves, but the video is. And it’s a great song anyway, so check it out.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2XdgMFffZU

Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio/Lera Lynn

More on point is “Wolf Like Me.” Not only is the song about werewolves, the video is a veritable short film on the subject. And also a bonus video of the cover by Lera Lynn. Less creepy but way more sexy, it’s like listening to a completely different song.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j1-xRk6llh4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwVX4cG6F9s

Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

Not as obviously about werewolves, but a talking wolf that eats little girls in red coats? Sounds like one to me.

Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon

Hey, its an obvious choice, but a classic.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): The Autopsy of Jane Doe

Horror comes in all shapes and sizes, but there’s something about small horror, in closed, claustrophobic places, that gets me. Only a few characters. Small sets, and not many of them. Darkness, tight spaces. No escapes. When done well, the tension is unbearable, every sound its own jump scare.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe is one of those movies that does it well. Father and son run a mortuary/coroner’s office in small, nondescript town. When three people are murdered and the naked body of a young woman is found half-buried in their basement, it’s left to them to perform the autopsy on the Jane Doe to figure out just what happened. And figure it out they do, but will they live to tell the story?

The Autopsy of Jane Doe rises and falls with the actors. Most of the story is told through the eyes of our father and son team of coroners, as they discover more and more strange things about the body on the slab. When a storm begins to rage outside and strange things start happening inside, the story works because of their reactions. It’s easy to lose a story like this, to make it boring. But that never happens. The first two thirds of this movie are brilliant, and even if it slips up a bit in the final act, that’s a minor quibble.

In atmosphere and overall feeling, Autopsy reminds me a lot of Last Shift, another claustrophobic thriller. If you liked that one, give this one a shot. You won’t be disappointed.

4 Stars

Bonus review: All Cheerleaders Die. Caught this one on Shudder, and it was far better than I expected. Fresh, funny take on the zombie genre. Check it out.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Hereditary

Spoiler Warning: Somehow, I managed to avoid all spoilers to this movie. If you haven’t seen it and want to do the same, I’d stop reading now.

Truly, we are living in the golden age of horror. Horror’s always been around, and there have been classic scary movies in every decade. The classic monsters of the 30s and 40s, the aliens of the 50s and the zombies of the 60s and 70s (and the 2000s). Exorcists and slashers of the 80s and 90s. But today, it seems as though we’ve reached a new level of quality.

At the top of that peak are new classics, brought to us by new voices with a unique way of looking at things. They aren’t looking to scare us with jump scares so much–though they know when to throw one of those in there. Rather, they want to disturb us. They want to burrow in and leave us thinking.

Movies like The VVitch, The Babadook, and It Follows have redefined what horror can be. And then, there’s Hereditary.

Hereditary hits you like a sledgehammer. From the beginning, it oozes dread. It starts with a funeral, and the atmosphere only gets darker from there. By the time that scene happens, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if you’ve stumbled onto the most depressing drama since Terms of Endearment. But the creeping fear that’s been growing since the beginning is about to break out, and when it does, you’ll be staring at the screen with your jaw open and your eyes fixed.

At its core, Hereditary is a movie about fate and about our utter powerlessness to fight back against it. We’re puppets in the hands of dark masters, and Hereditary drives that home from the very first scene. There’s something deeply Lovecraftian, and certainly Ligottiesque, about the whole thing, and if you are looking for a happy ending or even a bit of redemption, you need to look elsewhere. This movie is not for the faint of heart.

I’m not sure exactly what to say about Hereditary. It’s not a movie that I’m going to add to my yearly watch list. But I doubt I’ll ever forget it, either. I’m not sure you’ll enjoy Hereditary, but you must watch it. You don’t have a choice.

4.5 Stars

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon

Before there was Cabin in the Woods, there was Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. Both films take place in a world where horror is real, albeit not necessarily in the way the horror movies make it out to be. And both are fantastic.

Leslie Vernon starts out as a mockumentary. During a brief intro scene, we learn that in this world, Michael Myers, Freddie Kruger, and Jason Vorhees are all real, legendary killers. And Leslie Vernon wants to be the next in that illustrious line. To make his legend even more spectacular, he invites a documentary crew along with him, showing them the behind the scenes of how these killers do it, the tricks of the trade, and the planning a good killing spree requires. But as the appointed night draws near, it’s possible everything is not as it seems.

I’d heard about Leslie Vernon for years, but it was only this Halloween season that I finally got around to watching it. I’d been missing out, and the horror mockumentaries and self-aware horror movies of the past decade clearly owe a debt to what was, at the time, a pretty unique idea. Leslie Vernon starts off a little awkward, and it takes a while for it to find its footing. But when it does, the movie simply launches into orbit. There’s a point, definitive and obvious, where the movie transitions from the documentary style to traditional horror. It’s brilliant and perfect and I loved ever minute of it.

These kind of movies aren’t for everyone. But if you are one of those people who loved Scream and What We Do in the Shadows and Cabin in the Woods, The Rise of Leslie Vernon is a no brainer. And what better time to check it out than this Halloween?

4.5 Stars

Viewed on Shudder streaming.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): The Best Opening Lines in Horror

A great first line can make a book, and the inability to come up with one has stopped more than a few writers from every getting on with the rest of the story. Here, I present to you some of my favorites (and some of them are more like first paragraphs). Leave yours in the comments.

I am a watchdog. My name is Snuff. — A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

So intent was Frank upon solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. — The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker

The tower, which was not supposed to be there, plunges into the earth in a place just before the black pine forest begins to give way to swamp and then the reeds and wind-gnarled trees of the marsh flats. — Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Solving the following riddle will reveal the awful secret behind the universe, assuming you do not go utterly mad in the attempt. If you already happen to know the awful secret behind the universe, feel free to skip ahead. — John Dies at the End by David Wong.

On those cloudy days, Robert Neville was never sure when sunset came, and sometimes they were in the streets before he could get back. — I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. — The Fisherman  by John Langan

Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not at the subconscious level where savage things grow. — Carrie by Stephen King

Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places. For them are the catacombs of Ptolemais, and the carven mausolea of the nightmare countries. They climb to the moonlit towers of ruined Rhine castles, and falter down black cobwebbed steps beneath the scattered stones of forgotten cities in Asia. The haunted wood and the desolate mountain are their shrines, and they linger around the sinister monoliths on uninhabited islands. But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous. — The Picture in the House by H.P. Lovecraft

A considerable number of hunting parties were out that year without finding so much as a fresh trail; for the moose were uncommonly shy, and the various Nimrods returned to the bosoms of their respective families with the best excuses the facts of their imaginations could suggest. — The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood

You could argue–as I have more than enough times, as part of my Film History lecture–that, no matter its actual narrative content, every movie is a ghost story. — Experimental Film by Gemma Files

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone. — The Haunting of Hill House  by Shirley Jackson

This is not for you. — House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

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