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The Mist

It is a rare thing, a horror movie that not only frightens but truly surprises. And that is why The Mist is one of my favorite movies of the last decade. Based on one of Stephen King’s best and most Lovecraftian storiesThe Mist tells the story of the aftermath of a particularly bad storm on a small town in Maine. The town supports a military instillation, one that apparently is engaged in some top secret research. The storm unleashes something from behind, and whatever it is, it hides in the mist.

The main characters are trapped in a supermarket, with the mist surrounding them. And as the tension builds inside the building, the people inside become as dangerous as whatever is hiding in the shadows. The movie is loyal to the book, and this is yet another instance of Stephen King taking a simple but brilliant idea and crafting it into a stunningly horrifying masterpiece.

It’s rare that I worry too much about spoilers in a review. After all, it comes with the territory. But I don’t want to say too much about The Mist. It shouldn’t be ruined. There’s simply too much to enjoy.

The Mist is one of Frank Darabont’s greatest works, and many of the actors in the film went on to star in The Walking Dead. He is an uncompromising talent, as The Mist reveals in soul-crushing grandeur.

5 Stars

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Now Available: The Abyssal Plain

It’s not every day a new book comes into the world, but when it does, it needs your help to grow and thrive. I hope you’ll pick up my latest, The Abyssal Plain: The R’lyeh Cycle. I promise – – you won’t be disappointed. And don’t forget to leave a review!

They called it the Event.

The Event changed everything. The earthquakes came first, including the Big One, shattering the Pacific Rim and plunging the world into chaos. Then the seas came, the skies opened, and the never-ending rain began. But as bad as that was, there is something worse.

The Rising has begun.

A lone man who abandoned the world for his addictions searches a waterlogged Austin for something, anything to cling to. Little does he know that something else searches for him.

In the Sonoran Desert, the downtrodden of the world search for a better life north of the border, only to see the desert become an ocean: an ocean that takes life and gives death.

In the woods of Alabama, survivors escape to Fort Resistance, but soon discover that it isn’t just the horrors of the deep places of the world that they need to fear; but rather a new and more deadly pestilence that has grown in their own ranks.

In England, it’s too late to fight, and all that’s left is to survive. One man reaches for his own humanity, but what to do when humanity is an endangered species?

And in the Pacific, He is rising.

In The Abyssal Plain: The R’lyeh Cycle, authors William Holloway, Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, Brett J. Talley, and Rich Hawkins have created a timely and uniquely modern reimagining of the Cthulhu Mythos.

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Suspiria (1977)

Throughout the 1970s, Dario Argento produced a string of excellent films that helped cement Italy’s place on the horror map. Among the best of these movies was the 1977 film Suspiria. Building around a relatively simple and straight-forward story, Argento managed to create a moving canvas on which one stunning image after another was displayed. At times, the story takes a back seat to the shear artistry of the film, but unlike some movies that are all flash with no substance, Suspiria uses the vibrancy of the surroundings to draw us in to the world Argento creates and add to the mysterious and otherworldly nature of the events that we witness.

Suspiria tells the story of Suzy Bannion, a talented young ballerina who travels to Germany to perfect her craft at one of the most respected dance academies in the world. Arriving on a stormy night, she travels to the academy only to meet with a panicked young girl who flees from the building without explanation or any seeming cause. Suzy is later to learn that after leaving the young woman was murdered, and soon she beings to suspect that something sinister is taking place in the dead of night somewhere deep within the bowels of the academy.

Any discussion of Suspiria must begin with Argento’s exquisite use of color. Suspiria has to rank as one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed. The brightness of the images we witness helps to add to the fantasy like quality of the movie; it is simply difficult to imagine this kind of vibrant color in the real world. One can begin to predict when a murder is about to happen simply by looking at the set. When the colors fade, someone’s life is likely to vanish as well. It may seem as though I am overemphasizing a trivial aspect of the film, but a picture truly is worth a thousand words in this instance, and I highly recommend that even the most casual horror fan take a look at this movie. Adding to the brilliant visuals is a tremendous soundtrack by Goblin. A simple layered track echoes throughout the production and adds to the suspense of the proceedings while also emphasizing the mystical and dreamlike feel of much of the production.

Beyond being a work of film art, Suspiria is also a pretty good movie. Jessica Harper is in top form as Suzy and Alida Valli steals every scene she is in as Miss Tanner. Some of the other actors are less impressive, and provide wooden, forced performances. These instances, however, generally only involve characters with minor or brief roles, and are an annoyance at worst. The death scenes are also incredibly impressive. The first is a work of art unto itself—brutal, bloody, and brilliant—and caps what is one the best first 20 minutes in any horror film, primarily because it builds a level of suspense often reserved for the end of most movies. The terror begins right out of the gate, but not until Argento has peaked our senses with a delicious build up. Argento does not spend all of us brilliance on this first murder. In a later death scene, the use of shadow on a building façade both helps to obscure the true danger the doomed character faces while also reinforcing, and revealing to the sharp eyed viewer, the evil at the heart of the story.

This is not to say that Suspiria is a perfect film. The writing may strike the viewer as childish at times, and for good reason. Argento originally intended the film to be populated with 12 year old students, but the intense blood, gore, and scenes of violence lead to a decision to pursue older actresses. Despite this change, Argento did not order a rewrite, leading to some unusual and childish exchanges. Furthermore, viewers are advised not to think too deeply about the story. When the secret of the academy is revealed, an overly thoughtful viewer might well be led to ask, why a dance academy? Finally, the ending is somewhat weak. I was once watching this film with a friend who, while riveted throughout the movie, exclaimed “That’s it!” at film’s end. This is especially strange, given the tagline of the movie which reads, “The Only Thing More Terrifying Than The Last 12 Minutes Of This Film Are The First 92.” First of all, the movie is only 98 minutes long. Not real sure what happened to the other 6. And while I can certainly agree that the beginning of the movie is scarier than the end, that’s really not saying much. Taken as a whole, however, Suspiria is a superb film and tremendous entry into anyone’s horror collection.

5 Stars

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Pontypool

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

4 Stars

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

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

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Paranormal Activity III

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

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

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

4 Stars

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Captivity

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

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

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

Something Else To Watch For

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

ZERO Stars

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A Nightmare on Elm Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Halloween

The day has come. The time is here.

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

― Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt

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

Nemesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, Professor, I can’t…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was one scream became a thousand.

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

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

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

A thing that walked when it should have crawled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The light is fai     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): More Horror Shorts

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

Whisper

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

I Heard It, Too

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

Mikus

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

The Midnight Jester

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

The Smiling Man

This short is just freaky. Once again. Kids.

One Last Dive

The shortest short on the list.

He Dies at the End

This one is both funny and clever.

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Best Horror Shorts

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

5. The Jigsaw

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

4. Cargo

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

3.  The Birch

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

2.  Don’t Move

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

1.  The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow

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

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

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

Just seeing the covers of the books makes me nostalgic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In no particular order…

It Follows (2014)

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

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

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

The Babadook (2014)

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

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

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

Get Out (2017)

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

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31 Days of Halloween (2019): Songs about Werewolves

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

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

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

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

Wolf Like Me by TV on the Radio/Lera Lynn

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

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

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

Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs

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

Werewolves Of London by Warren Zevon

Hey, its an obvious choice, but a classic.

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

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

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

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

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

4 Stars

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

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