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

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

The Fiddle is the Devil’s Instrument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pyramid funerary text?”

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

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

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

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

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

“What about the book?”

He grinned. “The book is for later”

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

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

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

“He’s something, isn’t he?”

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

“Why, yes, yes he is.”

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

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

“This would be my first visit.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crowd answered as one.

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

The crowd answered again, louder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why are you here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. Blessed are the Faithful

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

4 stars

12. Crawling Chaos

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

5 stars

13. Azathoth

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

4 stars

14. The Sacrifice/No Turning Back reprise

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

5 stars

15. Between Reality and Dreaming

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

5 stars

16. Madness is my Destiny

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

4.5 stars

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

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

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

Suspiria — A Beautiful Death

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

Insidious — Tiptoe Through the Tulips

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

The Shining — Come Play With Us

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

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night — The Record Scene

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

Hellraiser — Demons to Some, Angels to Others

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

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Joe Bob Briggs and the Last Drive-In

If you love horror and you came of age in the 90s, there’s little doubt that you felt the influence of TNT’s Monstervision. It was a different time back then. If you wanted to watch a movie, you had to go to Blockbuster, and heaven forbid if you were late returning the VHS tape or if you didn’t rewind it. The selection was small. You couldn’t watch anything you wanted at any time. And if you had a question about a movie, good luck getting it answered. I know, the dark ages.

Monstervision was a revelation. Here was a show often highlighting classic B-horror movies we’d never even heard of, much less seen. And to top it off, we had Joe Bob Briggs who would appear during breaks in the middle of the movie to explain what was going on and maybe share some trivia. I can honestly say that my love of “bad” horror began with Monstervision and never let up.

With the end of the 90s came the end of Monstervision, but people didn’t forget. And when Shudder announced a Joe Bob Briggs horror marathon called the Last Drive-in, I am sure even they were surprised at the response. What was supposed to be a special became a series, with Season 3 due to premier next year. But for those of you who somehow missed out on this cultural phenomenon, what better time to catch up?

The films run the gamut from the almost unwatchable but bizarrely classic Bloodsucking Freaks to the new-classic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. And all of them come with Joe Bob’s unique blend of comedy, criticism, and trivia.

Whether you’ve never heard of Joe Bob or you’ve seen everything he’s done, this show alone is reason enough to subscribe to Shudder. Brett says check it out.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Short Stories for Short Attention Spans

As the big day approaches there are some of you–yeah, I’m looking at you–who still 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.

  1. 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.” Do whatever you need to to track down this gem.
  2. 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. Hard to find these days, but do whatever it takes to track it down.
  3. 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 a few years ago. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 stripe. 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.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): The Best Opening Lines in Horror

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

Don’t call me Abraham: call me Abe. — The Fisherman  by John Langan

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

You could argue–as I have more than enough times, as part of my Film History lecture–that, no matter its actual narrative content, every movie is a ghost story. — Experimental Film by Gemma Files

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

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): Best Lovecraftian Movies

Lovecraft has inspired artists for generations, but he’s yet to inspire any truly great films. Well, that’s not entirely true. Sure, there are no big budget blockbusters dedicated to Cthulhu, but if you know where to look, there are some real gems. Here, I’ve brought together four you may or may not have heard of.


OK, you almost certainly have heard about this one. Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator remains the best known, most beloved of the movies inspired by the old gentleman of Providence. More funny than it is scary and with iconic performances by Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting on?

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The Call of Cthulhu

It’s crazy to think that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society started off because some guys who loved Lovecraft got together on a whim and started acting out his stories. One of their first great productions was a 1920s style silent version of Lovecraft’s most famous work, and it is great. Even if Hollywood did try, the probably wouldn’t make a better version of Call than this.

The Whisperer in Darkness

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The HPLHS didn’t rest on their laurels, though. They continue to churn out high quality products inspired by Lovecraft at a dizzying pace. From radio programs to rock operas to underwear, they have it all. But The Whisperer in Darkness is one of their best. This time, the company went with a full-length feature film. Black and white and set in the thirties, the movie is faithful to the original story and well worth the watch.

Dreams in the Witch House

A few years ago, Showtime gathered some of the greatest horror directors of all time and gave them an hour to do whatever they wanted. The result were some of the greatest short(ish) horror films ever made. John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and the incomparable Takashi Miike’s Imprint–so disturbing Showtime wouldn’t even run it–were my favorites. But one of the best films was done by Stuart Gordon–Dreams in the Witch House. Witch House is not the best of Lovecraft’s work, but the film version changed my perspective on the underappreciated story. Now, it’s nothing compared to the epic rock opera put out by HPLHS, but it’s a good place to start.

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31 Days of Halloween (2020): 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 we leave the teens behind and enter the 20s (yeah, it’s weird that decades start on the 1), 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.

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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)

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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 (2020) — Welcome to October

Friends, it’s been a rough year, both the longest and the shortest of our lives. But if you’re reading this, we made it. October is here. Who knows how the lingering COVID-19 pandemic will affect us. Maybe there will be fewer parties, less candy, and a subdued Halloween. Maybe we’ll be stuck inside all month, watching horror movies and reading scary books, which doesn’t sound half bad. But whatever happens, we are in this together. Every day this month, I’ll be offering up horrific treats for you, my loyal readers. Some old, some new, all spooky. So gather around and join in. But whatever you do, stay inside the light.

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Under the Shadow

I’ve seen a lot of horror movies over the years, and the lesson I’ve learned is that if your kids or your spouse tell you there’s an evil spirit haunting the house, believe it. Under the Shadow is yet another example of that principle in action.

Shideh is a mother in the war-torn Tehran of the 1980s. Not only are the Iraqis threatening to destroy the city with Scud missiles, the Revolutionary Guard is everywhere, enforcing the strictest version of Islam imaginable. That fact has cost Shideh her chance at becoming a doctor, and when her husband is drafted to the front lines of the ongoing war, she is left broken-hearted and alone to protect their daughter. Every night, the threat of death by missile strike hangs in the air. When supernatural beings begin to threaten her sanity and her daughter’s safety, Shideh reaches her breaking point.

The best horror tells a story beyond the surface scares, and there’s no other genre more readily suited to addressing society’s problems and injustices. Iran, a modern state ruled by unpopular religious zealots, presents a deep well from which to draw. One of the best horror movies in recent memory, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, takes place in the same setting.

But while Iran adds color to that unique vampire flick, it is a very real character in Under the Shadow. The tension is palpable from the first moment, and you can feel the stress and strain as Shideh sees her dreams vanish because of her political opposition to the revolution, as her husband is forced to leave her to go to the front, as her daughter begins to see things in the night. The scariest scenes in this movie are not supernatural; they are scenes of war engulfing a city already under the thumb of tyrants.

Under the Shadow is, in some ways, a fairly standard haunting flick. It’s the setting that elevates it and makes the film well worth watching for anyone who likes their horror with depth.

3.5 Stars

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Movie Review–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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My Bram Stoker Recommendations…so far

It’s that time of year! I’ve been reading lots of fantastic horror this year and I’ve already made many recommendations for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award. (It’s a perk of the job, getting all these free books). Here are the books I have recommended so far, though I’m considering a whole lot more (Benjamin Kane Ethridge’s Bottled Abyss, of which I am half through, is almost certainly going to get one, as is Dark Tales of Lost Civilizations, a fantastic anthology). It goes without saying that I would recommend these books to anyone who likes horror, without reservation. In no particular order…

  • He Waits by J.G. Faherty in Best Long Fiction
  • When We Join Jesus In Hell by Lee Thompson in Best Long Fiction
  • The Croning by Laird Barron in Best (first) Novel. (I voted for this one for Best First Novel, cause I am pretty sure that it is a first novel. Looks like the votes are being tabulated in Best Novel, which is fine.)
  • The Donors by Jeff Wilson in Best Novel
  • Cemetery Club by J.G. Faherty in Best Novel
  • Devil of Echo Lake by Douglas Wynne in Best First Novel
  • Twice Shy by Patrick Freivald in Best First Novel
  • Cold Spot by J.G. Faherty in Best Long Fiction

I’m also a part of the Long Fiction Jury this year, and let me tell you, narrowing the many selections we have received to five worthy contenders has been very difficult. Hope you guy check out some of these books. They really are that good.

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