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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As I explained earlier in the month, I just had a baby. And that’s got me thinking more about horror books written specifically for children. And being a horror author, I’ve received quite a few as gifts in recent days. Here are three I recommend, particularly to anyone looking to raise a little Lovecraftian.
One of the first things you teach your children is their ABCs, but what if your kids can’t tell the difference between C and Z? Then C is for Cthulhu is for you. Written by Jason Ciaramella with beautiful illustrations by Greg Murphy, this book will be a hit in any household.
“Dagon” was the first story by Lovecraft I ever read. If I’d had this book when I was a kid, it could have been the first story of any kind I ever read. Illustrated and told in a style reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, Dagon is a great way to introduce your kids to the cosmic horror of H.P. Lovecraft.
Without question, the very best of these Lovecraftian kids books is Ivankovic’s treatment of “The Call of Cthulhu.” Also done in a Seussian style, Ivankovic manages to capture the original feeling of dread that pervades Lovecraft’s work–all in a sing-song rhyme and with child-friendly illustrations. A can’t miss.
Horror rarely plays it straight. Few genres lend themselves to allegory, to hidden meanings, to twists than horror. But sometimes, hidden meanings are unintentional, and if we are so inclined, we can see our favorite stories in a new way entirely. Consider the following.
The Haunting of Hill House (Netflix) is really about mold toxicity.
Netflix’s excellent The Haunting of Hill House is easily one of the best things to happen to horror in the last decade. Brilliantly acted, exquisitely shot, beautifully written, there’s little that matches it in horror on the screen today. But what if Hill House isn’t haunted at all? At least, by nothing unnatural? It’s right in front of our face.
Just look at the walls of the Red Room. They are covered in toxic black mold. And don’t take my word for it–removing the mold is a key plot point of episode 7.
Now here’s the thing about mold; sure it can kill you, but it can drive you crazy, too. What are some of the symptoms? Confusion, difficulty concentrating, disorientation, memory loss, mood swings, irritability, aggression, and yes, hallucinations. In other words, every single thing we see during the series. And the longer you stay in it, the worse it gets. It’s not as sexy as a house that devours souls, but still pretty terrifying if you think about it.
Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street has suffered a psychotic break.
I’m on record for my love of A Nightmare on Elm Street, but what if the whole thing is in Nancy’s head?
A Nightmare on Elm Street leaves something to be desired when explaining what’s going on. Why is this happening now? What gives Freddy the power to enter people’s dreams? And why just Nancy’s friends? Weren’t there other people involved in Freddy’s murder?
None of this hurts the movie, and if anything, too many people feel the need these days to explain every little thing that’s going on in their movies, books, or whatnot. But it does open up some possibilities.
Given what we know, there’s really only one thing that makes sense–this is all part of Nancy’s psychotic breakdown. She’s in a padded room somewhere, experiencing a megalomaniacal fantasy, one where a boogeyman from the neighborhood–legends of which we know are whispered by little girls playing jump rope–has come back to target her and her friends. But only she can overcome him. Only she can defeat him. She is the hero of her own story.
A Head Full of Ghosts is about an actual possession.
The last couple posts have been about debunking the horror of the story, but with A Head Full of Ghosts, we have a chance to do the opposite.
What if Marjorie really was possessed, and what if that possession passed on to Merry when she died? What if everything Merry has told us in the book, at least everything that happened after the spirit was driven from Marjorie, is a lie? After all, it gets awfully cold in that coffee shop there at the end. Could that be the demon, stealing the energy from the room, and inadvertently revealing itself?
Happy Winter Solstice, friends. Remember not to call up that which you cannot put down.
The Abyssal Plain: The R’yleh Cyclehas been out for about a month now and it’s doing great, thanks to all of you. Reviews have started to come in, and they’ve been very good. I hope that you’ll continue to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as you finish the book. There’s no greater gift you can give to an author than a review. So much depends on them.
With the book launching so late in the year, I didn’t expect to make any Best Of lists. Turns out, I was wrong. Richard Auffrey has The Abyssal Plain on his Best of the Year list, and I can’t tell you how honored I am. I’ve been reading Richard’s blog and book reviews for a very long time, and there are few people in the business I respect more than him.
So give yourself an early Christmas present or a right on time Solstice gift and pick up The Abyssal Plain. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
And as a bonus, go check out the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s A Solstice Carol. It’s fantastic, and just one of the great holiday offerings from the society.
When William Holloway came to me to me and suggested we write and edit a Lovecraftian anthology together, I was skeptical. My writing time had been limited by work, and I’d been trying to finish the sequel to That Which Should Not Be and He Who Walks in Shadowfor so long I was becoming a poor man’s (very poor) George R. R. Martin. But then he told me his idea.
A civilization at the beginning of the Old One’s return, still oblivious to the doom gathering beneath the waves, and shaken by a global catastrophe they don’t yet understand. Struggling to survive in a world gone mad. Five authors, four stories, all taking place in different places, advancing the story toward its inevitable conclusion. I was hooked.
Now The Abyssal Plain: The R’lyeh Cycle is here, and I could not be more proud of what we produced. I hope you’ll check it out and leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, and wherever you buy books. And thank you, as always, for your constant support.
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 stories, The 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.