“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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31 Days of Halloween (2020): A Story for You

Happy Halloween everyone. Here’s a story, my gift to you on this most wonderful of days.

The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument

When Cannon Danvers invited me to one of his famous séances, my first inclination was to decline. Others would have given their right arm or other critical body part to receive such an invitation. Cannon Danvers was a name whispered from the shrouded cities of the Far East to the still-smoldering capitals of Europe to the hills of Kentucky, where I claim ancestry. He was the man who, in the earliest flower of his youth, finally convinced Houdini of the power of mysticism. He had predicted both World Wars and had, in the darkest days of the latest conflict, assured President Roosevelt in a private meeting that we would come through—even if, like Moses of old, the president would not live to see it.

And he just so happened to be my uncle, my mother’s older brother and a stain on the family name. My mother had been a pure-hearted, God-fearing woman, and if she knew her boy was going to be sitting at a table with a known devil-worshiper—and while he attempted to communicate with the spirits at that—well, I guess she’d drop dead right there. She’d passed the spring before, a week after we celebrated VE day. I’m glad I’d made it home on leave from France to be with her in those final moments. But my point being, she was gone now to the Jesus whom she trusted and loved, and nothing could trouble her. As for me, I’d seen enough of war and death to have lost more than a little faith in God. So ironically, I figured a little proof of the devil would be good for my soul.

I’d never met Cannon Danvers. I wondered if his invitation was some attempt to close old wounds, or maybe even to reward me for my service to my country. Whatever was the case, I returned the RSVP with an affirmative and spent a significant portion of my combat pay on a new dinner jacket.

The night came, April 30, the May-eve, which some folks call the Beltane. I knew a little bit about it, about the fires the ancients built to chase away the evil spirits that were said to gather on that evening. I’d read about that—and a lot of other things some folks might frown upon. I guess I have a little bit of my uncle in me after all.

Still, I’d never gone so far as to partake in any of the forbidden rites or celebrations of pagan festivals about which I’d read. I’d never been ready to make that leap of dark faith. Then came the invitation.

Cannon lived on a plantation east of Georgetown, Kentucky, called Haven’s Crest, the home of the Danvers line since Temperance Danvers brought his branch of the family down from Massachusetts following the War of Independence. It passed to Cannon, he being the eldest son, when my grandfather died—well before Cannon began his career as a spiritualist. I suspected my mother resented him as much for the inheritance that had been denied her as for his ungodly ways. And I wondered sometimes if she resented me a little bit, too. For while it might have been the case that my grandfather saw fit to bypass her because she was a woman, it was just as likely that he had frowned upon the fact that she had a child out of wedlock with a man who was a mystery. Truth is, I don’t even know my father’s name. Though Mother might have died godly, everyone makes mistakes.

I arrived at Haven’s Crest an hour after sundown, as instructed, driving the 1937 Model T that had belonged to my mother prior to her death. An attendant directed me to a parking spot next to a line of newer, finer models, and it struck me that I would probably feel more comfortable amongst the staff than the other guests at this party. I parked and fell in line behind an older couple who had also just arrived. I followed them up the path, lit by torches that ran to the front of the house. Music wafted down, beckoning us onward.

That night I entered the ancestral home of my family for the first time—and I did so as a guest. It struck me as ironic, how the accident of birth can change things; how, if I’d been born a generation before in the place of my uncle, such an estate would be mine. Instead, I had little but a shack and forty acres to my name. I’d pondered it often during the war, as I fought and killed men who I might have been, had the spin of the wheel gone differently.

The house was as elegant within as without. A great staircase hugged the wall, twisting down to the grand foyer where I stood. Now doubt it had made for dramatic entrances by southern belles in an age dead and gone if not yet forgotten. The house evidently had electricity; it would have been passing strange for it not to. But our gracious host had chosen to light it this night with tall, black candles. There were hundreds of them, and though the comingling of their illumination provided enough visibility, a hazy smoke hung in the air. The flickering flames danced within it, and the shadows they cast seemed to have deeper forms and more substance than they should have.

I moved cautiously from the entrance to the parlor, my palms sweating. Guests milled about, chatting, laughing, though their friendliness seemed forced to me, as it always did in these settings. I did not care for the wealthy. Or, I should say, I did not care to be amongst them, particularly in large groups. I did not belong. I knew it. They knew it. What’s the point in fighting it? I filled a cup with punch from a bowl made of carved crystal and set out to explore the house.

My feet carried me to where the voices died, away from the crowd, into the depths of the home. I walked down a hall that ended in two polished wooden doors. One was cracked open, and flickering light spilled into the hallway. I opened it, and stepped into a mighty library. It was the kind you’d see in the films, with shelves that went all the way to the ceiling and a ladder that moved on a track from one corner of the room to the next. And books, so many books, too many to arrange neatly, so they were stacked upon one another in several places. And in the center of the room, reading by the light of an electric lamp, sat a man who could only be Cannon Danvers.

“Mr. Danvers,” I said, feeling foolish to have interrupted him, even more foolish to refer to him by my own last name. He looked up at me, studied me for an instant before his face softened and he broke into a smile.

“Why my good fellow, I believe I could certainly call you the same. You must be my sister’s boy.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, standing straighter as he rose from his chair, as if he were an old drill sergeant checking to see if my boots were spit-shined. I’d known natural leaders before, the good and the bad; certain men can command a room merely by their presence. Patton was that kind of man. So was Cannon Danvers. As he strode across the room, I knew he was someone other men would follow. He was not at all what I expected from a spiritualist and a medium.

“So you are Amelia’s son,” he said, shaking my hand. “I was sorry to hear of her loss. And I was sorrier still that we were never able to mend the…break that separated us.” His eyes fell to his feet, as if the shame of it was truly more than he could bear. My questions about the impetus for my invitation were answered. Cannon Danvers wanted to make amends with my dead mother through me.

“I know she always loved you, sir,” I said, and I thought there was at least a good chance it was true. Blood, after all, cleanses all manner of sins.

“Perhaps, perhaps. She’d probably kill me, and maybe you too, if she knew you were here tonight. But I’m glad you came.”

“Well sir, I love my mother, but it’s hard to come back from war and remain prudish about such matters. I figure God let me get through it so I could see everything there is to see, even if some of those things are forbidden.”

The corner of his mouth crept up into a smile. “Yes, I like that view. I like it very much. It is one I have always followed myself. Come over here,” he said, beckoning to me before turning and walking back to his desk. I followed.

A book lay open on the table, its pages yellowed, cracked. Cannon tapped the lamp with a finger.

“Special light bulb,” he said. “It won’t damage the paper in the book, even when it’s as old as this one. The candles outside are for show, of course. Atmosphere. But in here, we don’t take chances with such things. Do you know what this is?”

I did not, of course, but I hesitated to be so bold in my ignorance.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, my boy. There are few who would. It is a Latin translation of an ancient work, the Egyptian Book of the Dead.”

From somewhere deep within the house came the shrill sound of a bow drawn across a fiddle.

“Pyramid funerary text?”

A fire leapt into my uncle’s eyes, and he flashed a toothy grin. I felt a surge of pride in myself. This had pleased him.

“Very good. You know your ancient faiths. But no, this is something different, something most scholars have never imagined, much less seen. This is the true Book of the Dead. Not a text on how to send man into the afterlife. No, this is the book that can bring him back.”

The distant fiddle sounded again, tingling a high pitched squeal as the player sawed heavily with his bow.

“Bring them back,” I said, shivering. “Why would you want to do that?”

“Oh many reasons, my boy. Many reasons. To reveal secrets lost. To impart mysteries undreamt of. Or, as the case may be, to simply show that I can.” Someone hollered in the rooms beyond, and the band kicked off a reel. Cannon glanced toward the door. “So the party begins. Shall we join them?”

“What about the book?”

He grinned. “The book is for later”

He led me back through the maze of corridors, into the grand hall that must have dominated the house. For it was massive, spanning the length of the structure, with great high ceilings that sparkled like the heavens. A stage had been erected at one end, and upon it a band played bluegrass. A man fiddled like the devil, and the caller sang out a song I had never heard about nine yards of other cloth.

“I’ll leave you now,” said Cannon. “But don’t worry. I’ll find you again. Make yourself at home.”

With that he seemed to glide into the crowd, vanishing into a throng of his gala-clad guests.

“He’s something, isn’t he?”

I turned to find a woman, dressed in a long, black gown, wearing a mask to match it, adorned in feathers the color of ravens.

“Why, yes, yes he is.”

The woman smiled, her lips parting to reveal perfectly straight teeth.

“You’ve never been here before, have you?”

“This would be my first visit.”

“Come on,” she said, taking my hand. “Let me get you a drink.”

I followed her to a bar that had been erected on the far side. A waiter chipped away ice from a massive block into a glass, drowning it in generous pours of bourbon. It was my kind of party.

“So how do you know Cannon?” The band fired up a Virginia reel, and even the well-heeled Louisville and Lexington types showed their country blood.

“We’re related, actually. He’s my uncle.”

“Ah,” she said, “so you are the famous nephew. Cannon speaks highly of you.”

“Well that’s flattering, ma’am, though I can’t say what he would know about me.”

“Oh, Cannon knows a great many things, more than any normal man. You should understand that.”

“I’m coming to. So how do you know my uncle?”

“We were lovers once. Oh don’t look so scandalized. I’m a grown woman, and I can do as I like.” She took a step toward me, reached up and rubbed the collar of my jacket between her thumb and her forefinger. The sound of the band had died away as quickly as it had roared to life; now only the fiddler played, sawing a lonesome song of love lost. She leaned forward, her lips touching the small hairs on my ear. “But I’m all on my own, now. And so very lonely. Look for me, when the end is near, if you need a guide to find your way.”

The crowd surged forward, and she receded into it, swept away from me like a pebble on the beach. I had no time to think on it for Cannon Danvers had taken the stage.

The room dimmed as servants extinguished all but a handful of candles. The members of the band vanished into the growing darkness. All save one—the fiddler, who stood behind Cannon, bow set at the ready.

“My friends, thank you all for joining me on this very special evening. Many of you have come before. Some of you have seen extraordinary things. But I assure you, nothing can prepare you for what you will witness tonight.”

A murmur spread through the crowd, excitement and fear, not unlike what I had once heard on the battlefields of Europe.

“I am no maker of tricks or conjurer of illusions. I see things other men cannot see. I know things other men cannot know. In the last few years we have come to understand the essence of matter itself. We have harnessed the power of the atom. For good…and for destruction. But there is knowledge far older, and far more powerful, knowledge that can be found in this book.”

He held up an ancient tome, and even in the dim light I could see that it was the Egyptian Book of the Dead he had shown me in the library before. The fiddler, who until then had stood still and silent, now drug his bow across the strings of his instrument, playing a harsh and evil note that rung just barely within the range of human hearing. The atmosphere thickened, and I grinned. My uncle was quite the showman.

“Yes, I have powers undreamt of by the common magician, and unimagined even by mighty Solomon himself, the lord king of all the mystics. But for the magic we will do tonight, I will need your help. All of your help.” The fiddler’s note quivered. “When I speak the words of power, each line requires an answer. That answer, you will give. Say it simply. Say it loud. Iä! Iä! Say it!”

The crowd answered back—“Iä! Iä!” But I stayed silent. I had read in my studies that while a Christian man could fear no evil if he happened to find himself in the midst of a black mass—however such a predicament might come to pass—he who took part in the ceremony, even if in jest, bound himself to the coven. He had become a member of it, as sure as if he’d pledged his fealty to it, or signed the Black Book in his own blood. Superstition, perhaps, but I was not about to cross it.

I felt eyes on me, and I wondered if maybe someone had noticed my reticence, someone who might report me to my uncle. I looked about, and my gaze locked on hers—the woman whom I had met earlier was staring at me, her dark eyes shining behind her mask. I thought she was grinning, but then a figure passed between us and when he was gone, so was she.

“Very good. Very good,” said my uncle. “The power is strong tonight, and I do believe that we will find profitable magic this Beltane. You will notice that no fires burn in my fields this evening. No, we have not lit the bane, nor shall we. For we do not seek to chase away the spirits, but to welcome them.”

The assemblage laughed and clapped and cheered. I glanced above and noticed that the few remaining candles cast eerie shadows on the ceiling. Undulating black globes that stared down upon us like great, empty eyes. On the stage, my uncle had placed the book on the stand before him. He flipped pages, staring down intently as he went, searching. Then he smiled wide, having apparently found the spell he was looking for. Behind him, the fiddler played so softly that you couldn’t quite hear him. Not with your ears at least. Only with your soul.

“And now we begin, my friends. Now we open the way. Now we call to those beyond. Now we shall see the forbidden.”

He held up his hands, shoulder length apart, palms facing us. Even from that distance, I could see him close his eyes.

“From the realm of the living to the realm of the dead, we beseech thee. Iä! Iä!

The crowd answered as one.

“Anubis, open the gate. Khephri, purify our hearts. Ma’at, find us worthy. Thoth, record our prayer. Iä! Iä!

The crowd answered again, louder.

“Come, Osiris! Come, Sekhmet! Come, Sobek and Heket! Iä! Iä!

As the crowd chanted in reply, even louder than before, I felt a hand slip into mine. “You don’t want to be here when he finishes,” she whispered into my ear, as the discordant sound of the fiddle rippled up my spine.

“Why not?” I turned and looked at her, her eyes grabbing me no less forcefully than if she had clasped her hand upon my shoulder.

“You know why. You know what’s coming.”

“But I don’t,” I said. But as the words left my lips, I knew it was a lie. I did know, somehow. Even if it was only deep down, somewhere that I couldn’t quite see or understand. She smiled, and I let her pull me away, all the way to the door to the great hall. No one barred our way, no one stopped us. Not until she stopped, just beyond the threshold.

“You cannot stay,” she said. “But you must see.”

I looked back into the room. I squinted, and then rubbed my eyes. For something was wrong. The air shimmered. I felt as though I was looking through glass into a world that had sunk beneath the sea. The image was distorted. The people in the crowd seemed to sway, to extend beyond themselves, grotesquely and unnaturally. Only the stage was clear. Only my uncle, and the fiddler who played behind him.

“Make way for Hastur. Make way for He Who Walks in Shadow. Make way for the Crawling Chaos. Come forth, Nyarlathotep! Iä! Iä!

There was a crack, sharp and sickening, like the breaking of many bones all at once. The crowd shrieked in unison, but they did not run. A shadow fell upon them, and then, as they screamed, they began to dance. Legs and arms jerked, spasmed, as if they did not fully control them. Or perhaps it was that their new masters were unfamiliar with such appendages. My uncle’s manic smile faded, and fear crept into the crevices of his face. Only one man seemed unfazed, the one who played a tune I thanked God above I could no longer hear. But he had changed, too, for he was no longer a man. No man’s skin can turn as black as the abyss. No man’s eyes can burn with a fire that would devour souls. No man smiles like that. And no man plays like that.

The candles flared, and the dancers turned to torches, skin melting off bones. And yet still they cried out. Still, they danced.

I saw the moment my uncle’s mind broke, as he gibbered and cackled on the stage, as he tore at his own eyes lest he see what he had done. And the last thing I saw, before the woman, my savior, pulled me mercifully away, was that man, that beast, still fiddling.

We ran. Out of the house. Down the hill. As the mansion burst into flames and turned night into day. We didn’t stop until we reached the road.

“You knew,” I said, as I doubled over with my hands on my knees. “You knew and you didn’t do anything to stop it.”

She stood there, as elegant as if we still danced in the grand ballroom that now burned with Satan’s fire. “I didn’t come to stop it,” she said.

“Then why are you here?”

She took a step forward, extended one lithe hand and lifted my chin with a single finger. An orange light flashed in her eyes, and it wasn’t from the flames. “I came for you. Cannon Danvers, his steps always led here, to this night, to this place. But you, Cyrus, you have many steps left to take. And what a journey it will be.”

There was the sound of rending fabric. Her dress fell away, and two great, black raven wings spread wide from behind her. With one mighty sweep they lifted her into the sky. The firelight flashed across her body as she blotted out the moon, and I let blessed unconsciousness take me into its waiting arms.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Songs of Horror

As we conclude our tour of the best horror music out there, let’s do something different. We’ll kick it off with a song I include every year during this event: “Dixie Drug Store.”

Now a more classic telling of the story of Marie Laveau–with a New Orleans jazz flavor.

Sticking to the New Orleans theme, an ode to the murderer who his said to have inspired a century of jazz traditions.

And now, for something completely different. Another kind of horror tune, and one of the best examples of this particular genre…

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Even More Horror Shorts

Horror shorts never die. Here are four more horror shorts for your Halloween enjoyment.

First, a unique take on the “somethings in the room with me” trope. Be sure to watch with your headphones in.

Beautiful and creepy, sometimes what you forget is more important than what you remember.

There’s nothing more frightening than technology these days. See Google do some evil

While we are on the subject of technology, enjoy this modern update of the chain letter legend.

I guess I’m on a technohorror kick, cause this is my favorite. Be careful what you dislike.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): More Horror Shorts

The title says it all!


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.


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 (2020): 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 (2020): A Disney Halloween Treat

When you think about Disney, you probably don’t think about horror. But you would be wrong.

Very wrong.

Everybody has their inspirations. The classics, the old Hammer movies, Lovecraft, Poe, King, whatever. But for me, as much as anything else, it was those old Disney cartoons in the Octobers of my youth.

Cartoons were different back then, kids. It’s almost like they weren’t for children at all. They were mature, often violent, and occasionally terrifying. Two stick out to me. The first was called A Disney Halloween.

Essentially a clip show, A Disney Halloween brings together many of Disney’s best Halloween-themed shorts into one package. There are probably twelve or so vignettes. The first produced the images above, “A Night on Bald Mountain.” At the time, I only knew this was terrifying. Now, I understand it is an animated recreation of Walpurgis Night, the May-Eve, when all that is evil in this world rules the dark places of the earth. Later on, there is a discussion of cats and how they have been viewed as harbingers of evil throughout the ages. It includes a brief animation of the dark shadow of a man walking through a medieval village at night in the midst of a violent storm, while the good people of the town peer out from the security of their homes. It’s deliciously creepy, and you can see it below at 34:40. I’ve cued up the video to begin with a “Night on Bald Mountain,” but it’s fun to watch the whole thing.

The second Disney offering I want to highlight is one of my favorite productions, tv or film, animated or live action. It’s the Disney animated retelling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Narrated by none other than Bing Crosby, this is, in my view, the definitive retelling of the Washington Irving classic. I’ve seen it hundreds of times. Literally. I’ve memorized the songs. And none are better than this.

So why do I mention all this? It’s not just to tell you how much I love Disney. My love of horror was born with these cartoons, before I even know what horror was, certainly before I could read. Horror is like anything else; a true appreciation for it only comes with exposure. We aren’t born loving it, and if we want the genre to be strong in the future, we have to pass our love for it down. Whether that means sharing these videos with your kids, reading them a spooky story, or just taking them out trick or treating, what you do can change their lives.

It sure changed mine.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): The Disappearance of Brandon Lawson

If you know me, you know I’m obsessed with missing persons. The idea that people can simply disappear off the face of the earth in this day and age terrifies me. But no disappearance haunts me more than that of Brandon Lawson.

On August 8, 2013, at around midnight, Brandon Lawson left the home he shared with his girlfriend to drive to his father’s house. He’d had an argument with her, possibly over his drug use. Although sporadic, he had taken meth that day. Whatever the cause of the fight, he struck off into the Texas night in his pickup truck, driving through a desolate wilderness on the road to his father’s home. At some point on that road, he ran out of gas. Brandon called his brother and asked him to bring a can of gas.

When his brother reached Brandon’s truck, he found it empty and deserted. At the same time, a police officer arrived coming from the other direction, having been called as a result of a trucker’s police complaint about the abandoned vehicle. Brandon’s brother was reticent to give the police officer too much information; Brandon had a warrant out for his arrest. But what is brother knew for sure is that he didn’t see his brother on the road as he approached, and the police officer hadn’t seen him either. Little did he know that he would never see Brandon again. No one would, and he is missing to this very day.

His brother also didn’t know that sometime after Brandon called him to bring a can of gas, he called someone else–he called 911.

The call is below. I have listened to it a hundred times. You will listen to it a hundred times. It will drive you mad listening to it, trying to understand what is happening, trying to figure out what doom befell Brandon. Listen to the call, and comment below.


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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Three Horror Movies To Watch Before Halloween

It’s almost Halloween, and some of you haven’t even watched a horror movie yet. Not sure what you’re thinking, but it’s not too late! Here are three horror movies to watch before Halloween.

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.


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.

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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

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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A Reading of The Call of Cthulhu

Ordinarily on Friday, we highlight some of the best songs out there with a horror flavor. Today, we’ll do something a little different. Enjoy a reading of the classic work, “The Call of Cthulhu.”

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31 Days of Horror (2020): The Dyatlov Pass Incident

Normally on this page we look to horror that entertains. But today and tomorrow, I’ll be delving into true horror, into some of the greatest mysteries yet to be solved. This one you may have heard of, but I bet the one you see tomorrow will surprise you.

On February 2, 1959, in the midst of a blizzard and sub-zero temperatures, nine experienced hikers cut through their own tent pitched on the side of a mountain and fled into the darkness. Half dressed, they made their way down the slope of the mountain called Kholat Syakhl—which according to some shaky translations means Mountain of the Dead.* Reaching the tree line, they cut down branches to start a fire. Here, two of them, Gregory Krivonischenko and Yury Doroshenko, died from exposure. Three others, Rusteem Slobodin, Zina Kolmogorova, and the group’s leader, Igor Dyatlov, attempted to head back to the tent, perhaps to gather needed clothing and supplies. One by one they collapsed in the snow, never to rise. Four others—Nicholas Thibeaux, Ludimila Dubinina, Alex Kolevatov and Semyon Zolotaryov—were found months later, buried under more than ten feet of snow. Their deaths were the most mysterious of all.

They had obviously lived longer than the rest of their companions, as they had scavenged some of their clothing. Nicholas’s skull was shattered, broken in so many places that he would not have been able to move. Ludimila and Semyon’s chests were crushed with a force the medical examiner would describe as consistent with being hit by a car. Kolevatov died of hypothermia, though strangely, he was found with his jacket unzipped and his nose broken.

That’s the shortest possible intro I can give you into the mystery that has become known as the Dyatlov Pass Incident. Books have been written about it; entire websites have been dedicated to it. There’s no way I can cover everything you would need or want to know about this case. If you want to dive into the mystery headfirst, check out this site. It has original documentation and discussion of the various theories about what exactly happened on that night.

Here’s a map that will help you visualize the series of events.


It’s in Russian, but it’s pretty self-explanatory. You see the tent on the side of the slope. You see the footprints of the 9 going away from the tent and down to the forest where they built a fire. One thing that is not obvious to those who do not know the story is the yellow image on the bottom right. That is a storage area the campers set up the morning before they died. It contained extra firewood, clothing, and food.

The existence of that cache of supplies probably answers one question–where the campers were going. It is likely the case that after they left the tent, they lost their bearings in the blizzard and went the wrong direction. By the time they realized their mistake, it was too late to change course.

But why did they leave the tent in the first place? Why didn’t they take a moment to put on more clothes before venturing into subzero temperatures? They are often described as fleeing in terror, but the footprints they left behind show an orderly descent down the mountain, not a chaotic flight. But there is one image that simply blows my mind, that makes me wonder just what in the world was going on.

I have linked to that image below. I warn you, the image is quite graphic. It is a picture of Semyon Zolotaryov taken the day his body was found, many months after he died. Take a look at what is around his neck. It’s a camera. A camera! Why in the world does he have it? Adding to the mystery, he was found with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other. But unfortunately, he hadn’t written anything.

Here’s the photo.

I just can’t get past it. Whatever you think happened here–whether it was an avalanche (unlikely), the fear of an avalanche (more likely), escaped prisoners, Mansi warriors, or KGB assassins, if something happened that would scare 9 experienced hikers into abandoning the safety of their tent and rushing out into the cold, why would you leave warm clothes behind but grab a camera?

I don’t know that we will ever have the answer to what happened on that mountain, but I’m convinced the key lies with Zolotaryov’s camera. The film inside was badly damaged. The pictures recovered from the camera can be viewed at the bottom of this page.

Maybe there was something in the sky that night, something Zolotaryov was trying to capture on film. Maybe what ever that was, a missile, a plane, or something more extraordinary, that was the thing that made the campers leave their tent and rush to their death.

So what do you think? What’s your theory? What happened on that mountain side all those years ago? Let me know in the comments.

*It probably actually means Dead Mountain, as in, a mountain on which nothing grows. But that’s not creepy enough.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Lovecraftian Rock Opera, part III

In the conclusion to our review of Dreams in the Witch House, the rock opera reaches its conclusion. Darkness falls, and the fight for Gilman’s soul rages on.

11. Blessed are the Faithful

Gilman’s friends unite to conduct an intervention with Gilman on the eve of Walpurgis Night. They urge him to put his faith in God, even as a child has been abducted from town. Meanwhile, chants float down from Meadows Hill…

4 stars

12. Crawling Chaos

But the forces of evil aligned against Gilman are too strong. The nameless cults shout his name, and Nyarlathotep answers them.

5 stars

13. Azathoth

Now Gilman comes face to face with the mad chaos at the heart of all things, the blind idiot god, Azathoth. This is the ultimate conclusion of Gilman’s research—the opening of the way to an ancient evil that lurks beyond all space and time.

4 stars

14. The Sacrifice/No Turning Back reprise

Our story reaches its climax as the moon rises on Walpurgis Night. Now Gilman must decide with whom he stands—the dark forces that he has unleashed or the world of light that he has left behind. Will he fight, or will he give in?

5 stars

15. Between Reality and Dreaming

At the heart of Lovecraftian horror, in my view, is that hope comes with a price. Victories may be won, but only at great cost. So too with Gilman.

5 stars

16. Madness is my Destiny

At the end of all things, Gilman wonders the lost worlds. So his tragedy concludes.

4.5 stars

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Lovecraftian Rock Opera, part II

As Dreams in the Witch House continues, Gilman is falling further under Keziah’s spell. Will he turn back in time?

6. No Turning Back

Nope. In one of the great songs on the album, Keziah arrives in her full glory. A combination of sultry and foreboding, Keziah draws Gilman further down the path of forbidden knowledge. Representing the seduction of forbidden knowledge, Keziah is a siren leading Gilman to his own destruction.

5 stars

7. Signum Crucis

As Gilman falls under Keziah’s spell, the devout people who live in the house with him take action. For they have seen the violet light underneath his door, the same light that sages throughout time have recognized as a sign of the satanic. Replete with heavy metal riffs, “Signum Crucis” introduces us to the witch’s familiar, Brown Jenkin.

4.5 stars

8. Nothing I Can Do

Gilman finds himself wondering the deserted streets of an ungodly city, not knowing whether his soul is forever lost. A ballad of despair, Kaziah comes to comfort Gilman, to help him see the inevitability of his fate.

4.5 stars

9. Legends and Lore

Of all the songs on the album, this one is my favorite. Imbuing Keziah with far more humanity than Lovecraft could ever have imagined, “Legends and Lore” is a testament to the genius of the HPHLS.

5 stars

10. The Sleepwalker

 Gilman falls further and further under the spell of Keziah, finding himself walking down the rain-streaked streets of Arkham.

3 stars

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Lovecraftian Rock Opera

If there’s one thing fans of Lovecraft love more than his work, it’s criticizing that work, and “The Dreams in the Witch House” has had its fair share. From August Derleth to S.T. Joshi, Lovecraftians have heaped scorn upon the novella. De gustibus non est disputandum and all that jazz, but I find these attacks to be baseless, founded more in critics’ own views of what Lovecraft should be than what he sometimes is. Just as Joshi criticizes another Lovecraftian masterpiece, The Dunwich Horror, as an “aesthetic mistake” that presents a “stock good-verses-evil scenario,” there are some in the horror community who reject the good and evil paradigm altogether in Lovecraftian fiction, particularly when the good guys win.

“The Dreams in the Witch House” not only presents a struggle between good and evil, it contains elements that truly terrify some Lovecraftians—Judeo-Christian concepts. It also has some of the best characters in Lovecraft’s fiction—Brown Jenkin, Keziah Mason, and Walter Gilman. We have call-backs to the Salem witch trials, Cotton Mather, and Judge John Hathorne, Walpurgis Night playing a central role, the appearance of the Necronomicon, Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, and a cutting-edge mathematical explanation for magic and the realms of the Old Ones.

That’s a lot to recommend it, and perhaps it’s no surprise that two of my favorite interpretations of Lovecraft’s work came from this story—the Master of Horror episode directed by Stuart Gordon and the unparalleled H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s production of Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera. Both are great, but the rock opera is brilliant. The HPLHS cut no corners here. Brian Sammons, horror critic and author, laid it out best:

First off, the HPLHS got some talented ringers to back them up on this massive, musical Mythos odyssey. The opera has 16 tracks that feature over 17 singers, including Jody Ashworth (The Trans Siberian Orchestra, which was original formed by members of the aforementioned Savatage), Alaine Kashian (Broadway’s Cats) and Swedish metal phenom Chris Laney as the wonderfully wicked Brown Jenkin. That not enough musical street cred for you? Well, how about this, the album features 14 musicians, including Bruce Kulick (former KISS guitarist) and Douglas Blair Lucek (guitarist for W.A.S.P.). Yes, this album has links to both Savatage and W.A.S.P. Oh, you know I was a happy metalhead to learn that.

So yeah, this is not just your brother throwing something together in his backyard. Over the next three days, we’ll walk through this masterpiece, song by song. Enjoy, and let me know what you think in the comments.

1.The Confession/Arkham Overture

Our adventure begins with Frank Elwood taking confession with Father Inwanicki, setting up that our story will be told in the form of flashbacks. The intro establishes the overall feel for rest of the production, casting Arkham as a place of darkness and mounting dread, while introducing us to some musical riffs that will repeat themselves throughout.

5 stars

2. Dreams in the Witch House

The first real track is an ensemble blitz laying out the nature of the witch house and the contours of the story. Frank Elwood leads off, followed by the introduction of Walter Gilman himself. A chorus of characters serenades us, and then, like a canon shot, Alaine Kashian makes her first appearance as Keziah Mason, and you know you’ve got something special on your hands.

4.5 stars

3. Higher Fire: Breaking Me Down

We learn a little bit more about Gilman and how committed he is to the study of mathematics and the other dimensions that may surround us. Contrast that with Joseph Mazurewicz, who is equally committed to opposing the forces of evil he sees gathering in anticipation of Walpurgis Night. Gilman thinks that Mazurewicz is little more than an annoyance, part of the endless cacophony that is slowly driving him insane. But Gilman is starting to see that the very walls that surround him may hold the key to his studies into the strange geometries that make up the world.

3.5 stars

4. Bridge to The Stars

Gilman lays out the cosmic theory he is pursuing, as he attempts to find a way to pass between this dimension to the next. His professor and classmates are initially skeptical, but as Gilman lays out the theory, they start to believe. The chorus that follows reminds me of something out of Rent.

4 stars

5. The Nightmare

Even as Gilman’s theory comes closer to reality, the pressure of his work has begun to invade his dreams. In those nightmares, he walks the path of ancient lost cities of impossible geometries and sees unspeakable things. Gilman the scientist finds himself turning to his faith to protect him from the madness around him. As he calls upon his Lord, a new voice enters, that of Kaziah Mason.

3 stars

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History Part II

And now five more of the best scenes in horror. Enjoy!

Dawn of the Dead (2004) — The World Ends

One of the best remakes ever–and that’s saying a lot considering the source material–Dawn of the Dead also has one of the best scenes of any zombie film. Most zombie movies, for whatever reason, don’t show the fall. The pick up sometime later. But this movie managed to capture exactly what it might be like to wake up on the last day of civilization.

The Babadook — Dook, Dook, Dook

I loved The Babadook, and I think a big reason is this scene. It starts so innocently, and yet it gets under your skin, unnerving you, making you think you something is watching over your shoulder. And maybe it is.

Sinister — The Lawnmower Scene

Sinister is an underappreciated horror movie in my view. But I don’t know anyone who didn’t appreciate this scene. Perhaps the single greatest jump scare out there. Turn the lights down and the volume up.

Army of Darkness –Hail to the King, Baby

Most horror movies sputter to their conclusion. Not Army of Darkness. It ends with one of the single greatest scenes in all of horror history. I can quote the whole thing. Who can’t though?

A Nightmare on Elm Street — Falling Asleep in Class

This is, without a doubt, my favorite scene in all of horror. It’s perfect. Perfectly written. Perfectly acted. And it sums up everything that A Nightmare on Elm Street is about. (As an aside, Nightmare is my favorite horror movie.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): The Best Scenes in Horror Movie History, Part I

Today, I want to share with you some of my favorite horror movie scenes. I don’t know about you, but a good horror scene makes me positively giddy. Like, laugh out loud, smile like a madman, giddy. Am I the only one? No? Yes? Anyway, here we go. Let me know your favorites in the comments.

Oh, and P.S., in the tradition of all great horror, this post will have a sequel. Come back tomorrow for Part II, where I reveal my favorite horror scene of all time.

Suspiria — A Beautiful Death

From the finest Italian horror movie ever made comes this gem. Occurring about five minutes into the film, it sets the scene for what’s coming.

Insidious — Tiptoe Through the Tulips

This scene is everything that quiet horror should be. An ordinary day, a record player (always creepy), no reason to think anything is going to happen. But if you are watching, you’ll spy something out of place early on in the scene. I love this scene, and I get chills every time I watch it.

The Shining — Come Play With Us

This one is almost cheating, but man is it good.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — The Record Scene

Another scene involving a record player, but very different. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is one of the most visually stunning horror films ever shot, and this scene might be its most beautiful.

Hellraiser — Demons to Some, Angels to Others

The best scene in one of the best horror movies ever made, here we meet the Cenobites in all their glory. I’ll always believe that this scene and our desire to see more, learn more, and know more about the Cenobites spawned the countless Hellraiser sequels. After all, they have such sights to show us.

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