The Site That Should Not Be
The veils between the worlds may be at their thinnest on Samhain, but the darkest night of the year is now upon us. Walpurgis Night. The Eve of Beltane. The Night of the Witches, when those dark beings meet on the Brocken mountain and hold revels with their gods. Bar the door and shutter your windows upon this May Eve. For tonight, the darkness takes shape.
Each night, the people of Arkham cowered behind their flimsy wooden doors, terrified of what lurked beyond. But it was the the Beltane Eve, the night of Walpurgis, that the old men of Arkham still speak of in whispered words and phrases. They say that the hills burned with an unnatural glow that night, that satanic psalms floated down to the town below, as creatures of darkness danced and gibbered in the moonlight.
Read more in my book, That Which Should Not Be.
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Although some in the horror community struggle to admit it, Lovecraft, for all his brilliance, was also a racist. I’ve written about it before on this site, and it’s a side of the man we should not shy away from. Victor LaVelle has done more than confront it; he’s applied his considerable talent to turn one of Lovecraft’s most troubling–and not in a good way–stories into something far more compelling.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of Lovecraft’s story, “The Horror at Red Hook.” The story derives directly from the xenophobia that Lovecraft’s time in New York City only served to intensify. It’s considered one of Lovecraft’s worst stories (even Lovecraft panned it), and one might think it a strange choice for basing a modern retelling. But therein lies LaVelle’s genius. He takes a story born in racial hatred and turns it on its head. The Synopsis:
People move to New York looking for magic and nothing will convince them it isn’t there.
Charles Thomas Tester hustles to put food on the table, keep the roof over his father’s head, from Harlem to Flushing Meadows to Red Hook. He knows what magic a suit can cast, the invisibility a guitar case can provide, and the curse written on his skin that attracts the eye of wealthy white folks and their cops. But when he delivers an occult tome to a reclusive sorceress in the heart of Queens, Tom opens a door to a deeper realm of magic, and earns the attention of things best left sleeping.
A storm that might swallow the world is building in Brooklyn. Will Black Tom live to see it break?
If you’ve read The Horror at Red Hook, you know the basic story. Detective Malone plays a role here, but he is not the central character. Neither is Robert Suydam. For it is Tester, despised because of his race, who ultimately has the power to raise the Old Ones. But more importantly, it is he who understands them, understands what is it is to be an outcast, and understands the desire to form a new world. He could stop them, too, but after living a life of the worst kind of abuse at the hands of a society that hates him, will he bother?
There is so much to enjoy about The Ballad of Black Tom that I scare believe I could do it justice. For all the greatness of Lovecraft, it’s a reminder of what he could have accomplished if he’d been able to overcome his worst tendencies.
Horror is having its [latest] moment, and the availability of mediums like Amazon and Netflix mean that horror movies which might have disappeared into straight-to-video oblivion ten years ago have a chance to shine today. But The Ritual is a coup for Netflix. This is a movie good enough to go to theaters, and it is can’t miss for anyone with a Netflix account.
Four friends from University strike off into the Scandinavian hinterland to honor their fifth member, killed in a robbery gone wrong. But at least two of the crew aren’t the athletic specimens they once were, and after an accident gives one a bum knee, they decide to take a shortcut through an uncharted forest. Things get bad when they discover the corpse of a large animal hanging from a tree–gutted–and they get worse when they find an ancient idol in a forgotten farmstead. Now something is hunting them, and what started as a camping trip soon becomes a fight for survival.
The Ritual is based on the novel of the same name by Adam Nevill. I enjoyed that book quite a bit, but it was flawed, particularly in its second half. In adapting Nevill’s book, the filmmakers have taken what made the novel great and fixed its shortcomings. And the creature design is inspired. The beast stays just beyond the frame for most of the movie, but the usual disappointment when the monster is revealed is completely absent here. It’s too good for just one movie, and I hope for more exploration of its mythology in the future.
The Ritual is an unmitigated success. Everyone involved should be proud.
If you’re in the mood for a thoroughly depressing movie, 1922 is right up your alley. Stephen King is a genius, but his movies have been hit or miss. Still, if you think about it, the adaptations of his novellas/short stories have been remarkably successful. Stand by Me, Shawshank, Children of the Corn, 1408, just to name a few. So I went into 1922 with a lot of optimism, particularly given that it is a Netflix special. Was I disappointed?
1922 is brilliant in so many ways. Beautifully shot. Wonderfully acted, with that slow burn build that the best horror movies have. Thomas Jane simply inhabits the lead character. There will be no awards for his performance, and that’s unfortunate, because he is brilliant. The screenplay is unendingly depressing, as we watch a farmer not only decide to kill his wife, but convince his son to help him carry it out. Things collapse from there, as the contagion that is murder spreads from the farm to the countryside and beyond. No one is spared.
1922 is a good movie. You won’t be bored. But there is something missing. I can’t say exactly what it is, and I would be interested to know if anyone else sees it. Maybe it’s the inevitability of things, the sense that nothing good is going to happen and there is no way to avoid the doom that is coming.
Maybe that’s part of the movie’s charm. After all, there’s something to be said for creeping dread. Still, for me at least, it kept the film from taking that next step to brilliance.
Am I saying you shouldn’t see 1922? No, definitely do. But I might have something happy ready to watch after.
After a brief hiatus we’re back, and with a review of the 2017 film, The Temple. Of all the ways to come back, this was probably not the best.
The Temple treads well-worn territory. Three young Americans head off to mysterious foreign lands (in this case, Japan) and are soon messing with things they don’t understand. After numerous warnings to leave well enough alone, they strike off to visit the forbidden temple where a bunch of people have died. When things get wonky, they end up spending the night. Bad idea. You know where this is going, and there isn’t going to be a twist.
It’s a movie you’ve seen a thousand times–and 993 of those times were better. The characters are woefully underdeveloped, and if you care about these people when they start to die, you are a better person than I. The usual J-horror tropes are present, particularly pale, scary children with haunted eyes and sharp teeth. An homage to an actual piece of Japanese folklore–the tricksy, shape-shifting fox–is a welcome addition, but not enough to save the film. Spend your time elsewhere.
2 of 5 Stars
I know, as of late, I have neglected you and this site. For that, my deepest apologies. My excuses are likely unsatisfying. Work has overwhelmed me, and I fear it won’t be getting better anytime soon. Recent professional developments also prevent me from continuing my yearly tradition of 31 Days of Halloween. Next year, I’ll do better.
This year I’ll be posting over the course of October, but mostly in the greatest hits vein. So if you see a post you’ve seen before, I apologize.
For now, below are two video reviews of my books, first for That Which Should Not Be and then He Who Walks in Shadow. If you are a fan of an author, know this–these are the kinds of things that keep us going. You may never know the effect your kind words have on people, so keep it up. Until we meet next time…
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
That Which Should Not Be review:
He Who Walks in Shadow review:
Visit https://bugensbooks.com/ for more reviews.
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
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 email@example.com 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.
I will lead you into the dark.
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?
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.