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.
–“The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument” from The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument and Other Forbidden Knowledge
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In honor of the holiday season, I am offering a free copy of That Which Should Not Be in audiobook format to anyone who purchases one of my books from Journalstone–novels, anthologies with one of my stories, or the Limbus books. Just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a copy of your receipt–dated today or after–and I’ll send you a download code.
It’s been a pretty horrific year, all things considered, and not in a good way. So let’s celebrate LAST YEAR’S Halloween. I spent it in Salem, Massachusetts, the Mecca of all things horror and witchy. And it was a blast. Enjoy these photos from the Halloween Ball at the Hawthorne Hotel, and get out there when you have a chance.
Today we start with a review and end with a Shia Labeouf. First, the review.
Hell House is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. The fact that it took me this long is a bit of an embarrassment. But hey, better late than never right? The synopsis:
Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is going die. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newpaper publisher, starts thinking seriously about his impending death, he offers to pay a physicist and two mediums, one physical and one mental, $100,000 each to establish the facts of life after death.
Dr. Lionel Barrett, the physicist, accompanied by the mediums, travel to the Belasco House in Maine, which has been abandoned and sealed since 1949 after a decade of drug addiction, alcoholism, and debauchery. Barrett and his colleagues investigate the Belasco House and learn exactly why the townfolks refer to it as the Hell House.
I’ll admit, this book is a slow burn, especially at first. Hell House is often compared to The Haunting of Hill House. That book is one of the best I’ve read; Hell House did nothing to supplant it, and honestly, I wasn’t even sure I’d get through it at first. But I stuck with it, and I was glad I did.
I don’t have a lot more to say about it than that. You should read it. It’s a classic. But you probably know what to expect.
And now, Shia LaBeouf, terrifying and hilarious, all at once. (quiet, quiet)
If you are going to release a horror novel, this month is a pretty good time to do it. Now we have Black January, the highly anticipated Lovecraftian novel by Doug Wynne. In honor of this event, I give you my short–but sincere–review of the first book in this series, the excellent Red Equinox.
We are in a Lovecraftian renaissance, and there are a lot of people who are writing Lovecraft these days. But while you can find a thousand short stories and anthologies set in the world of the mythos, it’s not so easy to find full-length novels. And if you do find them, it’s really hard to find a modern take on the Great Old Ones. And that’s why Red Equinox by Douglas Wynne is so refreshing–it does both, and it does them brilliantly.
If you are a fan of Lovecraft, Red Equinox is a can’t miss.
5 Stars for this early favorite for the 2016 Bram Stoker Award.
My obsession with Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen of New Orleans, is well documented. I give you the two best songs about her. (You got one earlier this month, but I’m cheating). The first is by Papa Celestin, one of the greatest jazz masters to come out of Louisiana. The other is by Grant Lee Buffalo.
Sometimes I feel like Lovecraft’s stories take place on a perpetual late fall day, leaves falling from the trees, the grass dead and dying, a chill in the air. So it’s surprising that no one came up with an idea like Autumn Cthulhu before.
In case you fell asleep for the last decade, Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos are ascendant. In this golden age, we’ve seen some of the best Lovecraftian novels and anthologies ever put to print. But that comes with a problem–over-saturation, a flood of more-of-the-same, cut and paste drivel designed only to capitalize on the phenomenon and make some money.
Which is why Autumn Cthulhu is such a pleasant surprise and a resounding success.
I’m not going to do that thing where I go through each story and rate them. Some are better than others, but that’s always the case. What’s not always the case is that every story is good, and many of them are great.
And I think it is the theme, pulled together by Mike Davis, that sets the stage for that level of quality. Every story is infused with the feeling of autumn. On the hottest day you’ll feel a chill in the air when you read this book.
It goes without saying–I recommend this book highly and without reservation. You will not be disappointed
Now I gotta tell you guys, Last Shift is a pretty good one.
Officer Loren is working the final shift at a police station that is being closed. The official story is that there’s a new and better station down the street. But hey, when is the official story ever the real one, right? Turns out something crazy went down at that station. And wouldn’t you know it? it was one year ago, to the night. Now she’s got to make it through to the end of her shift. Or the end of the world, whichever comes first.
In my view, there’s little more unnerving than a story about a person who is facing horror alone. No back up. No one to rely on. No one to even talk to and ask whether you are going crazy. That’s what this movie does best. It’s a big challenge for actress Juliana Harkavy to pull this off by herself, but she does it magnificently. By the end of the movie she is questioning her sanity, and we are questioning everything we see. And it’s all creepy.
The movie doesn’t quite achieve legendary status, though. I’m not sure what it’s missing. The story line and subplots never really comes full circle, and you do start to wonder why someone doesn’t come by to check on her at some point. (I’m also using the alternate poster, as I hate the main one.) And I admit to not loving the ending. Throughout there’s just something that’s not quite right, even if it’s hard to put your finger on it. I’m reminded of Sinister in this respect, a movie that I thought was terrifying at times, but also had something missing.
Still, Last Shift is a great way to spend a late October night. Check it out, and let me know what you think in the comments.
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?
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.
Yesterday we did the best opening lines in horror novels. 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.
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
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
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
Jonathan Coulton has a lot of music, but his best offerings, in my opinion, are horror themed. Enjoy!
I’ve run this interview before, but William Holloway is a name you need to know. So I am running it again.
William Holloway is the best new horror writer publishing today, and recently he released the first novel in his six-part Lovecraftian epic: The Immortal Body. William was kind enough to spend a few minutes answering my questions. Pay attention folks, because soon you’ll only find him in the pages of high brow literary publications that charge an access fee. He’s that good.
Let’s start with the most important thing—tell us a little bit about your most recent book.
The Immortal Body is the first novel of the Singularity Cycle, which is a six part Lovecraftian novel series. The first two novels; The Immortal Body and Song of the Death God have been completed for a while and I’ll be done with the third one in the next few days, then it’s on to the forth. I don’t want to spoil the surprise too much, but suffice it to say that each novel, though part of the same overarching story, are very different creatures.
The Immortal Body is largely told via the POV of the police investigating a series of nightmarish murders. Their real challenge is for them to see the thing that is happening in front of them, to see the impossibility of it and once they have crossed that threshold, to not go mad. There’s a lot happening in this book, and granted, it’s not for everyone. It’s a dark novel, I think as dark as one can be without wallowing in nihilism. It’s bloodier than most of what we see these days from Lovecraftian horror novels, and goes places that most horror will not go. That said, there’s an animation of the gritty and the grimy and the banality of everyday human evil and suffering that contextualizes it into the cosmic.
The word Lovecraftian gets thrown around a lot. But while The Immortal Body has Lovecraftian elements, it is also a mythos unto itself. Do you consider yourself Lovecraftian, and has Lovecraft influenced your writing?
Lovecraft has influenced my writing more than any other writer, and yes, I definitely consider myself a Lovecraftian though I don’t know that I’ll ever do formal Lovecraftian Mythos writing. The Wendigo made an appearance in Lucky’s Girl, but I can’t see myself writing a novel specifically using Lovecraftian Mythos deities. But, who knows? Maybe one day.
Clive Barker and Brett Easton Ellis deserve honorary mentions as well. Both of them taught me that there really are no limits.
“Weird Fiction” has always been a genre dominated by the short story. Lovecraft, Blackwood, Laird Barron are masters of that form. But you seem to prefer the novel. Any reason?
I’ve tried, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t seem to write a short story. In fact I seem to be constitutionally incapable of doing so. My stories just aren’t short. It’s a talent I envy.
I know The Immortal Body is part of a series. Do you know how many books are going to comprise that series? Do you have the whole story worked out in your head, or does it come to you as you write?
It’s going to be a six part series. I have the general idea worked out of what will happen in those stories and how the stories link together, but as you know, things come to you while you’re writing. I’ve tried using really structured plans for writing a novel but when the words start to flow, that plan disintegrates. Ultimately I end up with what I want, but the means to get there changes along the way.
Do you have a George R.R. Martin plan? In other words, what happens if you die before you finish it?
Well, without giving a way too much, that particular problem is solved by the very structure of what I’m writing. But, if that day ever comes, I hereby pass the torch to Brett J Talley to complete my work.
You’ve seen the good—and bad—side of publishing. Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are.
One of the worst spots that you can find yourself in is to have written a book that you know has merit, and then to confront the fact of publishing without a roadmap. That’s exactly where I was with The Immortal Body a few years back. There’s a bit of backstory to this and most of it has to do with naiveté. I wrote The Immortal Body (and about half of Song of the Death God) in in a short frantic blast. I never even thought about publishing it. Eventually I ended up on a friend’s self publishing vanity label. And then, nothing. I realized at that point that no one was buying it because no one knew it was there, so I started mailing out copies to people whose names I found on the Lovecraft eZine. You were one of them. Most of them never responded, but a few did, yourself included. Through you I found out about this guy in England named Graeme Reynolds who wrote a werewolf novel called High Moor. I read it and I loved it. I friended him on FaceBook and he read The Immortal Body and he liked it a lot. Shortly after that I wrote Lucky’s Girl, and sent it to Graeme because Lucky’s Girl had werewolves in it, and Graeme is the King of the Werewolves. I was looking for pointers on what to do with it, not to actually submit it. It hadn’t occurred to me that he’d want to publish it, but he did, and of that I count myself very fortunate.
Do you have any advice for new writers just starting out?
You have to find your people! Where does your audience hang out? Is there a website they frequent? A dark alley somewhere? I made zero progress until I found The Lovecraft eZine. And, you also have to remember an important rule; as much as it’s nice to be read by other authors, to be considered that guy that other authors think is super duper, you’ve got to focus on finding and keeping your audience. Other authors are not your audience. What other authors can do is give their seal of approval to your work, but ultimately you’ve got to move past them and carve out a niche amongst paying readers.
Who are your favorite authors working today?
Adam Nevill is the best writer in horror today. That’s a well known fact in the UK, but the US hasn’t caught on to that yet. Then there’s these Lovecraftian guys; Brett Talley, Rich Hawkins, Scott Thomas.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
Halloween is coming up. Any traditions?
The Immortal Body just dropped, but what should we look forward to next from you?
Six months from now Song of the Death God will be released. This is the Second novel of the Singularity Cycle which will ultimately be a six novel Lovecraftian epic. Again, without give away too much, each novel is very, very different, but they are all part of the same continuum.
And where can folks find you on the net?
Facebook. I don’t have an author page but I’ve been told I should get one.
So we are getting closer to the big day, and some of you–yeah, I’m looking at you–probably haven’t done anything to celebrate. And while it’s still possible for you to catch a movie or two, time is running short for any literary outings. But fear not! Well, do fear, but only in the Halloween way. I digress. Some of the best horror fiction comes in the short story form. Here are five short stories that are guaranteed to satisfy your need for some thrills and chills this season.
- Hot Tub by Hal Bodner: From the anthology Hell Comes to Hollywood II: Twenty-Two More Tales of Tinseltown Terror, this quirky tale is also the most recent on the list. Hal Bodner is the master at comedy-horror and his talents are on full display in “Hot Tub.” The best piece of short fiction published last year and a Stoker nominee to boot, do whatever you need to to track down this gem.
- Mourning House by Ronald Malfi: Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. I talk about this one all the time. But I can’t help it. I love it. A haunted house story to reinvigorate haunted house stories, Malfi is a master and this is a wonderful introduction to his work.
- The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood: A true classic, I was shamefully unaware of this story until very recently, and I put it on the top of my Halloween reading list this year. Magic, unnerving, spooky, “The Wendigo” holds up amazingly well despite being over a hundred years old. Available for free at the link above, I would advise buying the audiobook narrated by Felbrigg Napoleon Herriot. And yes, it’s every bit as good as that name would suggest. Listen to it, and then you too can say that you have seen the Wendigo.
- The Statement of Randolph Carter by H.P. Lovecraft: I could have put a dozen or more of Lovecraft’s stories in this space, but I wanted to share with you the one that first hooked me on his writing, and my sentimental favorite of his ever since. There is a purity to this story–of horror, of plot, of the final haunting words–that make it one of Lovecraft’s most evocative stories. Check it out, and then let me know your favorite.
- The Yellow Sign by Robert W. Chambers: The story that, as part of a quartet of works mentioning that enigmatic work, The King in Yellow, introduced us all to a world of madness and insanity that continues to inspire artists of every strip. Read it, but beware the yellow sign!
And a bonus: Nine Yards of Other Cloth by Manly Wade Wellman: The best story by a legend of horror that few know, this story is as melodic as a song and as haunting as the voice of a long lost lover. It introduced me to John the Balladeer and Wellman. Now it’s your turn.
When you think about Disney, you probably don’t think about horror. But you would be 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.
If you want to see the whole thing, click here.
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.