Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lake Dead

Friday, May 30, 2008

10 Greatest Vampire Novels of All Time!

Another list reprinted from the old site, with a couple of updates/changes.

I’m going to forego the usual lengthy explanation of why I enjoy these lists or what purpose they serve, and go straight to the disclaimers. This list reflects my personal preferences, and my personal reading experience. Therefore, if you are thinking, “How could this bastard have left off Bunnicula?” the answer is that I either haven’t read it or it just didn’t fit my tastes.
The major explanation with which I feel I should start is that I like my vampires to be the bad guys. The current trend of romantic fiction that presents the vampire as a melancholy object of desire perplexes me. They are animated corpses, people! Why would you want to have sex with that, and do you know what that makes you? End of rant, it’s your choice. (I will admit I read the Anita Blake series after a sort of dare from a friend, and found the early books to be pretty entertaining, before the series turned into bad porn)
There are hundreds of books with vampires as prominent characters in print, maybe thousands, and when I started the list, I thought it would be difficult to narrow the group down enough to make a top ten list. I was surprised to find there was a great deal of difficulty coming up with ten truly good books that fit this list. I’m surprised that so few of them have impressed me. Anyway, on with it.

1. Dracula, by Bram Stoker – The daddy of them all, it is responsible for most of the lore we associate with vampires, wooden stakes, garlic, silver and so on. One notable exception is that Stoker gave his vampires the ability to walk around in sunlight, just without some of their powers, a feature that most subsequent incarnations have ignored. If you haven’t read this, it is a much better book than you would imagine, and it is definitely worth your time. This has been filmed too many times to mention, although never completely satisfactorily.*
2. Salem’s Lot, by Steven King – I know I reversed the order from my previous list of horror novels, and it is true if I had to pick just one book on this list to take to that proverbial deserted island, it would be Salem’s Lot. But Dracula was such a strong inspiration on Stephen King in writing this, so much so that Dracula scores a few extra points. Salem’s Lot has been filmed as a mini-series twice, and both versions are better than expected.
3. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson – The first post-apocalyptic vampire novel, it is a science-fiction influenced, paranoid take on the genre. Filmed as The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price (Not really all that bad, especially since the budget was $1.95) and The Omega Man with Charlton Heston (tried too hard to be hip and enlightened for my taste). A new version under the original name, with Will Smith, has been released.
4. Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons – The vampires in this one are the psychic type instead of blood-suckers, but it is a chilling presentation of evil.
5. The Stress Of Her Regard, by Tim Powers – The Romantic Poets, Byron, Keats and Shelley, battle vampires. No one but Tim Powers could pull this off, ut he does it so well you would believe vampires explain all the historical oddities associated with the three poets.
6. They Thirst, by Robert R. McCammon – I’ve mentioned I’m a McCammon fan. A little crude in places, but deserving of its place.
7. Live Girls, by Ray Garton – Vamps working as strippers and in peep shows. The relationship between strippers and patrons mirrors vampires and their victims, anyway.
8. The Traveling Vampire Show, by Richard Laymon – A vampire as a carny attraction. Laymon is always good.
9. Vampyrrhic, by Simon Clark – One of my favorite British authors, he ties his vampires into Norse mythology, believe it or not. Chilling.
10. This Is My Blood, by David Niall Wilson (also known as Temptation of Blood, a title I dislike) – Another favorite author, this would place higher (and has on other lists) if I didn’t consider it a more metaphysical book than a vampire novel. It features Mary Magdelene (you may have heard of her) as a vampire

* Did you know when the movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released, another writer did a novelization of the script? If you do, don’t you find it ironic?

There you have it. Any comments would be appreciated. Future lists on best single author collections, and (Cthuhlu help me) best short story are planned, so if I haven’t pissed you off yet, I’ll get there.

Ennui and Other States of Madness

Earlier this year, I had an opportunity to read some work by one of my favorite authors, David Niall Wilson, before publication. Now that pre-sales are available for two of the three, I can go ahead and talk about them. The first is Ennui and Other States of Madness.

Due to be published in August from Dark Regions Press, Ennui and Other States of Madness is Wilson’s first collection of short stories since his Stoker-nominated Defining Moments. It is a mixture of previously-published work and some pieces that are new to the volume.

One of the things I like most about Wilson’s work is his ability to shift gears and change focus dramatically from story to story, as opposed to some authors who find one vein and doggedly mine it long after they’ve said everything they can about it. The seventeen stories featured here illustrate this very well.

Rather than detail every individual story, I’ll hit the highest spots. The lead story Ennui, is a fascinating story involving the historic Jack the Ripper, which displays copious research on the part of Wilson. The Gentle Brush of Wings is a wonderful horror-fantasy which won the Stoker Award last year for Best Short Fiction. For These Things I Am Truly Thankful will make you think twice about the food you buy at the supermarket (as someone who worked in a grocery store in high school, I will attest caution is warranted). New Leather and Old Cognac is a tale of obsession centered around an old bookstore that reminded me favorably of Robert W. Chambers. The Call of Farther Shores concerns a legacy that returns to haunt a young man returning to his hometown.

I could go on and on, but hopefully, this gives an idea of the type of stories found here. There really isn’t a weak one in the bunch. One thing I found unusual, and very welcome, was the stories seemed to become stronger the further you went into the volume, a departure from a lot of collections which cluster the good stuff up front, and dump the unsaleable at the end. The artwork is by Don Paresi, one of the best working in the field.

The Horror Mall has Ennui and Other States of Madness for pre-order at an incredible $19.95 for 360 pages of great reading. In the era of high priced small press books, this is a true bargain. The print run looks to be low, so it would be advisable to place your order as quickly as possible. Clicking on the photo below should take you right to the ordering page. I’ll be shocked if this doesn’t get a Stoker nomination for 2008.

Buy David Niall Wilson books at Horror Mall!

Mendacity, Nothing But Mendacity

If you look at the top of the page, you will see a clickable banner for The Horror Mall. Although I hate cluttered websites, I have added this for two reasons. One is that I have ordered from The Horror Mall, and found them to be dependable, with good prices, and I think, in this era of small-press domination of the horror field, a one-stop shopping destination would be good for everybody. The other, of course, is pure unadulterated greed. If you click though the link and then order something, a small percentage of the order is kicked back to moi. Don’t worry, all proceeds will go to charity, with the current charity being The Fund To Buy Myself Yet Another Guitar. So click on the link and start shoppin’. Daddy needs a new Gretsch.

Support Indie Horror!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

BW and I took in Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull last Friday. You may have heard of this movie. It is the fourth in the Indiana Jones series.

I am an atypical Indiana Jones fan. While I enjoyed the first one quite a bit, my favorite is Indiana Jones & The Temple of Doom. It has the best mix of suspense, violence and gore, which is more in keeping with its pulp antecedents than the others in the series. My least favorite is Indiana Jones & The Holy Grail, which I thought was too silly and too willing to go for cheap laughs. Naturally, Temple of Doom is the least popular, to the point Spielberg and Lucas say they regret making it. And Holy Grail is the most beloved. Go figure.

You should bear this in mind when I say I wasn’t overly impressed with this outing. It’s an okay piece of entertainment, but it mostly recycles action sequences from the first three movies. And I’m sorry, Harrison Ford at 65 is too old to be playing the character. (To be honest, they at least reference his age a couple of times during the movie. One of my chief complaints about Ford as he ages is his refusal to allow his movies to acknowledge this.)

There’s no point recapping the plot, as it’s kind of superfluous anyway. I will say Shia LaBoef does just fine in the role given him, and the talents of Cate Blanchette and Ray Winstone are mostly wasted. As is this semi-negative review, as you have either already seen it, or are going to.

My wife, who is much smarter than I, loved it, by the way.


The movie Hack! is probably intended to be a spoof. I say probably since it has plenty of ridiculous-to-the-point-of-absurd elements, yet it isn’t funny. It is also probably intended as an homage to a number of classic horror films, although I imagine said films would be willing to pay substantial bribes to Ye Olde Blogger to keep their names secret. Hmmm…

A college film class full of stereotypes (The Geek, The Jock, etc. They even mention this! It is meant to be funny.) taught by Mr. Argento (groan) make a field trip to an isolated island to … observe biology, apparently. It probably isn’t supposed to make sense. They are warmly greeted by the island’s owners/inhabitants/caretakers/whatever Mr. King (groan) and Mary Shelley (groa..I’m going to stop this, or I’ll be doing it every sentence), who then proceed to kill them off in ways that supposedly reflect their favorite horror movies. There are a number of lame plot twists that may take you by surprise, depending on your level of mental retardation. One more groan: the boat they arrive on is named Orca (groan).

There’s no need for a horror fan to watch this, unless you want help loathing yourself. If you need a final point to convey the utter worthlessness of this crappy flick, here it is. When the female character who is the class resident film geek is asked what is her favorite movie of all time, she answers: Pretty Woman. Oh, the humanity.

30 Days Of Night

Reprinted from original post on the other blog:

BW and I went to see 30 Days of Night yesterday. I was a big fan of the Steve Niles/Ben Templesmith book, so my hopes were high, and I was generally satisfied.

Buy 30 Days of Night through Horror Mall!

The plot is simple. The movie is set in Barrow, Alaska, where the sun sets for 30 days at once (hence the title). As the long night begins, a wave of vampires arrive, to take advantage of the long period without the sun. These vampires are the ugly sort, with blue-white skin, black eyes, and unnaturally distending jaws lined with sharp teeth. They wreak havoc, while a small band of survivors tries to last until the next sunrise.

I loved the fact that the vampires in this are hideous and repellent, and don’t just lounge about in ruffled shirts, spouting junior high-level poetry. The cast was also quite good. I have never been a Josh Hartnett fan, but his laconic personality works here. Melissa George is good, and the star is the great character actor Danny Huston as the lead vampire. Huston is always great, you should check out The Proposition for another fine example of his work.

There were things I didn’t like. Northern Alaska is a place that most of us are unfamiliar with, with an inhospitable climate. Little use is made of that. It was cold, it snowed, but other than that, it could have been anywhere. There was also no explanation for why the vampires had gathered to do this, except for a desire to Fuck Shit Up.

Overall, though, I think they did a good job of adapting the look of the book, and I would give it a thumbs-up. If it sounds like your thing, you can order it by clicking on the DVD cover.

Gene Colan

If you are a reader (or former reader) of comic books of a certain age, you are probably familiar with the name Gene Colan. He was the longtime artist on Daredevil, made a big impression on a lot of people with Tomb of Dracula, and worked on many other popular books. He is also known as one of the nicer guys in the business.

Unfortunately, Gene is now facing serious health issues. A number of people who care about him have donated items to an on-line benefit, the proceeds to go to his medical bill. The auction is hosted by Clifford Meth on his website The Clifford Method. I urge you to check it out, and if something catches your eye, make a bid. It’s for a good cause.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Population 436

Population 436 is a fairly decent little horror film even if it falls victim to being far too predictable. Steve Kady (Jeremy Sisto, one of my favorite actors, and the main reason I bought this DVD) is an employee of the United States Census Bureau sent to investigate the town of Rockwell Falls. It seems that the town has maintained a steady population of 436 (hence the title) since the beginning of census records, and Kady is supposed to find out why. The rest of the plot is copped directly from The Wicker Man, with the town being dominated by a numerology-based cult, which has determined the ideal population is 436. Kady realizes a step too late what is going on, and the last half of the movie involves his attempts to escape. The flick is competently done from a technical aspect, and the acting is good, with the most surprising example of this being a nice performance by the oft-maligned Fred Durst as Deputy Bobby. Still, if you’ve ever seen or read anything like this, you can predict everything that will happen, right up to the ending.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Ten Best Horror Anthologies Of All Time!

Another list re-cycled from my other blog, also will be in need of updating in the future. The usual disclaimers apply, my personal opinion, blah, blah, blah. This time it’s the ten best horror anthologies. Again, these reflect my own opinion, and are limited to evaluating those I’ve personally read. I gave some extra weight to those anthologies which published original material, and tended for the most part to ignore books from a continuing series. As much as I love Night Visions, Best New Horror, Shadows, and others, it just wasn’t what I was looking for. It also doesn’t feature single author collections, which will have a separate list very soon. So here goes:

1. Dark Forces (edited by Kirby McCauley) – This came out at the beginning of the horror boom, and highlighted a lot of the young (and old) writers who would be at the forefront. McCauley was an influential agent, and had a discerning eye for quality. The highlight of the collection is probably Stephen King’s The Mist.

2. Tales Of The Cthulhu Mythos (August Derleth) – This often revised anthology (there are several with a similar name, the one I refer to is from Arkham House) collects key stories by H.P. Lovecraft, and also a broad representation of those who followed in his footsteps, like Robert Bloch and Clark Ashton Smith. One of my favorites as a kid, and one of the things that warped me for life. The highlight would be Lovecraft’s The Call Of Cthulhu.

3. The Dark Descent (David Hartwell) – A collection that attempts to be a study of the evolution of horror. You might not agree with all of Hartwell’s conclusions, but most of the stories here are undeniable classics.

4. Silver Scream (David J. Schow) – Themed anthologies usually are unsatisfying. The limitations of the subject matter lead to repetition and boredom. Fortunately, Schow is a skilled editor, and the subject matter (movies) is so broad as to have great variety. The highlight is one of the great horror stories of all time, Night They Missed The Horror Show by Joe R. Lansdale.

5. 999 (Al Sarrantonio) – At the end of the millennium, and the beginning of the slow re-birth of horror as a viable publishing sub-category, Sarrantonio has put together an excellent collection of stories that highlight past masters and coming stars. My favorite is “Amerkanski Dead At The Moscow Morgue”, by Kim Newman.

6. Splatterpunks (Paul M. Sammon) – A somewhat flawed book (by the time it was released, the movement it highlighted was already on the wane, and many authors didn’t want the label, so they weren’t included), this still illustrates the power the splatterpunks had, and includes some interesting essays detailing the history of the splatterpunks and some of the controversies.

7. Under The Fang (Robert R. McCammon) - The first of the Horror Writers of America’s themed anthologies, the stories concern a world overrun with vampires. Possibly an idiosyncratic choice, but I enjoy it.

8. Prime Evil (Douglas Winter) – Somewhat too conservative in its choice of subject matter, this was one of the best anthologies of original material in the 1980s. An all-star lineup of writers of the time.

9. Midnight Graffiti (Jessie Horsting and James van Hise) – Excellent anthology, with the stories divided into five categories. My favorite is Bob The Dinosaur Goes to Disneyland, by Joe R. Lansdale.

10. Dead End: City Limits (Paul F. Olson and David B. Silva) – Because many horror tropes work better in an isolated setting, horror stories have generally taken place in a rural milieu. This outstanding anthologies features stories in the urban jungle.

Well, there you have it, my opinions. I’d love to hear yours. The heyday of the anthology is probably over, at least for now. In the modern market, it is just to complicated and expensive to sort out royalty payments. But for any budding anthologist, here are some examples to follow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Edward Lee is one of the most popular of the “extreme” horror writers, those whose stories push the boundaries of acceptable limits of sex and violence. This has made him a somewhat controversial author. Creekers, originally published in 1994, was something of a breakthrough novel for him.

Phil Straker is an ambitious big city cop, who originally hailed from the small Southern town of Crick City (for non-Southerners, “Crick” is a colloquial way of saying “creek”). He is on his way up the ladder when he is framed for shooting a child, and his career is destroyed. The only job in law enforcement he can find is in his old hometown, so he joins the small Crick City police force, and is detailed by the police chief to begin an undercover investigation of a local meth ring.

The meth operation is run by a member of the titular “Creekers”, backwoods residents who have intermarried for generations, resulting in a variety of aberrations and birth defects. Creekers have red eyes and black hair, and many have misshapen heads and missing or extra limbs and other features. Phil is drawn into a macabre world of stripclubs/whorehouses employing hideously deformed Creeker girls, and an underclass that has it’s own strange agenda.

Creekers is not for the squeamish. It has scenes of deviant sex, and gonzo violence. But for those of us who can handle such topics, we are rewarded with a fast-moving tale with unpredictable turns and surprises.

Pod of Horror

If you enjoy horror and listen to podcasts, I’d like to recommend the Podcast of Horror, hosted at Horror World. Hosted by Mark Justice, with news from Horror World’s Nanci Kalanta, it is a monthly dose of news and interviews that does a good job of covering written horror fiction. You can download episode # 43 here, and also find previous episodes on the Horror World website.


Terminal is an older book by Brian Keene, probably the most popular (and definitely one of the best) horror writers to come into prominence in the 21st century. Personal reasons (a good friend received a similar diagnosis to the protagonist at the time I purchased it originally) kept me from starting it until recently, but I was glad when I did.

Terminal is the story of Tommy O’Brien, a young blue-collar worker in rural Pennsylvania, with a wife and a child. The O’Brien family is like a lot of families in America today, living from paycheck to paycheck, with no insurance and scant prospects. Tommy’s life takes a sharp turn for the worse, when he is diagnosed with an extremely malignant and aggressive form of cancer, and given no more than three months to live. Then at the end of the one-two punch, he is laid off from his factory job. With nothing left to lose, and worried about what will happen to his family when he’s gone, Tommy decides to rob a bank, figuring there’s little to risk in terms of punishment.

To pull off the heist, Tommy gets the help of two of his friends, the hapless and dim John, and the dangerous newcomer Sherm. The plan is simple: Get in, grab the money, get out, hurt no one. But it all goes wrong when they discover Sherm has more vicious personal demons than they thought, people die, and the situation in the bank turns into a hostage crisis. And the supernatural enters the story in the person of a small boy among the hostages, who may be able to do wondrous things.

For many readers of Keene’s novels, this is a favorite. While I enjoyed it and would recommend it, to me it was closer to the bottom among his published novels. I think the story would have actually worked better without the supernatural elements, and the hyper-religious old woman among the hostages is straight from Stephen King’s The Mist. Still, it is well written, with Keene’s usual deft characterization. For many another author, I would call it a high water mark. It is only in comparison with his other work that it suffers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


At the end of last year, a much-appreciated Christmas present from my Beautiful Wife was a year’s membership in the Cemetery Dance Book Club. For just under $200, counting shipping & handling, you would receive 13 books on a monthly schedule. It sounded and has been a great deal. At the time, BW asked me what I would most like to get through the club. I looked through their list of upcoming titles and said “Either Vampyrrhic or Vampyrrhic Rites by Simon Clark, but it won’t happen. Those will be too popular to be included.” I was pleasantly surprised when Vampyrrhic turned out to be the third selection.

I’ve always thought every horror writer will eventually write a vampire novel. The vampire is just such a staple of the genre, they can’t resist forever. King (Salem’s Lot), McCammon (They Thirst), Garton (Live Girls) and others have all taken their shot at the fanged creatures. The trick of course, is to try to come up with a new take on such a familiar character.

Vampyrrhic eschews all the conventional origins of vampires. It takes place in the smallish English town of Leppington, in the North Yorkshire Moors. Unbeknownst to the current residents, a thousand years earlier, the last of the adherents of the old Norse Gods made a pact with them, in which they would overthrow Christendom at the head of an army of the undead. Due to an accident at the ceremony, the uprising never happened, and the undead were trapped in the ground beneath Leppington. Prophecy stated that a thousand years later, the descendent of the founder of the town, and the guy who was to lead the vampire army, would return, and the undead would come out of the ground. As the novel begins, Dr. David Leppington returns to his namesake town, and guess how long it’s been since the aborted ceremony? That’s right, a thousand years. Before you know it, the sewer-dwelling living corpses are turning the locals into Nosferatu.

Much of the story takes place in a near-deserted hotel, and there are some real chills as the few residents of the hotel hear footsteps in the hallways at night while they remain locked in their rooms. Vampyrrhic, which is also available from Leisure Books as a mass-market paperback, is the talented Simon Clark at his best.

The sequel, Vampyrrhic Rites, will also be featured here in the days to come.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Hypericon 08

I’ve never been a convention-goer, but I will be attending Hypericon this June in Nashville. It is a convention for “speculative fiction”, and usually seems to have a little more focus on the horror side of the aisle than most of its counterparts. The highlight will be the Guest of Honor: Joe R. Lansdale hisownself! There are a lot of other worthwhile guests as well, including Ronald Kelly and Bryan Smith, and it should be worth the while of those interested. Anyone who would think of attending can find more information at the Hypericon website. Deadline for cheap registration is May 25th.

The Shell Collector

The ocean is perhaps my favorite horror milieu. If a story has some sort of monster from the sea or a haunted ship, I’m there. So Christopher Golden’s novella The Shell Collector is right up my alley.

Richie Feehan is a house-painter and part-time lobsterman in Gloucester, Massachusetts. One day, during a particularly dry spell for fisherman, he hauls up a lobster pot with something strange hanging on to it. Something that opens its eyes and looks at him. In terror, Richie cuts the pot loose. Soon after, he learns that something is stealing bodies from graves and devouring them, leaving strange sea-shells behind, and some old-timers tell him of the legendary Shell Collector, who comes from the sea at certain times to eat the dead. Richie’s efforts to stop the Shell Collector puts his life and those of his family and friends at risk.

The Shell Collector is part of Cemetery Dance’s Novella Series, and features outstanding artwork by Glenn Chadbourne. I’d highly recommend it, and would love to see it extended or a sequel written for it.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Flesh Welder

The publishing collapse in the horror genre in the mid-90s began hard times for a number of established writers. Some left writing entirely as the markets dried up. Among these was Ronald Kelly, who had published eight novels and numerous short stories, including the classic Fear. Kelly gave up writing for ten years, but has now begun a welcome comeback. Cemetery Dance published his chapbook Tanglewood earlier this year, and now a new publishing house Croatoan Publishing, has kicked off its line with Flesh Welder.

Flesh Welder is a short story, originally published in the relatively obscure Noctulpa back in 1990, and unfamiliar to most. It is a post-apocalyptic tale, taking place in Houston about ten years from now. The city, and probably the world, is in ruins from an unexplained war. The area is covered with radioactive zones, and there is a vicious, guerilla-style war still raging, apparently along ethnic lines.

One of the most important survivors in the area is Doctor Rourke, who has acquired the ability to weld flesh – that is, to replace missing body parts with scavenged meat from the many casualties in the area. With traumatic amputations common due to the nature of the fighting, he is important to all sides. The story concerns what happens when Jeremiah Payne, the most cruel of the commanders, needs his services, a man who Rourke despises.

Flesh Welder is a highly entertaining story, and Croatoan has produced a very handsome book. The cover, by Zach McCain, is striking, and the book includes an extensive interview with Kelly by Mark Hickerson, as well as an excerpt from Kelly’s upcoming novel, Undertaker’s Moon. It’s good to see Kelly return.

The book can be ordered from the publisher by going to The cost is a fairly incredible $5.00 (including shipping and handling!). At that price, you should give it a try, and quick before they come to their senses. It comes autographed by Kelly and McCain.

Note: Since this review originally appeared on Skullring, Flesh Welder has completely sold out. Congratulations to Ronald Kelly and to Croatoan Publishing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ten Best Horror Novels Of All Time!

More accurately, my ten favorites. They represent only my personal opinion, and would vary in my own mind from day to day. But I don’t think you’d be disappointed in any of them, if your taste runs to such things. A few notes: Horror is a field that has thrived on the short story, and collections and anthologies are omitted here. Boy's Life and Last Call would probably rank higher if I considered them pure horror novels. This list originally appeared on my other site, but since it was so popular, and fits the subject matter here, I am re-printing it here. I want to periodically up-date the list as I reconsider selections.

1. Ghost Story, by Peter Straub – Peter Straub is not the modern master of the horror story (that’s Stephen King), but he did write the best horror novel. Ghost Story is a masterful book, with ominous foreshadowing, and indelible, believable, characters. Still creepy, and my all-time favorite.
2. Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King – I read a lot of horror, so it’s difficult for anything to get under my skin, particularly if I’ve read it before. I’ve read Salem’s Lot many times, as well as listening to it on audiodisc, and it gets to me every time.
3. Dracula, by Bram Stoker – The Moby Dick of horror novels, everybody knows about it, few have ever read it. It is well worth the effort. It is still vivid, and an interesting use of the epistolary technique (the novel is written as a series of letters and diary entries). Far and away Stoker’s best work.
4. The Shining, by Stephen King – The second King novel I read, the first to grab me and make me a lifelong fan. The best haunted house story ever written.
5. Boy’s Life, by Robert R. McCammon – More of a magic realist novel with some horror elements, I love it in part because it is set in the part of the country in which I grew up and when I grew up. Read it.
6. Summer Of Night, by Dan Simmons – Before he became successful (and a little pretentious) Simmons was a novelist in the Stephen King style. This is his best horror novel.
7. Last Call, by Tim Powers – Like Boy’s Life, more of a fantasy novel with horror elements, but one of the best things I’ve ever read. Powers gift is so great, by the time you reach the end, you’re convinced what happened has to be real.
8. It, by Stephen King – King intended this to be the ultimate horror novel, with every fright of childhood present. He didn’t completely succeed, but still good enough for eighth on the list.
9. The Haunting Of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson – The second-best (by a narrow margin) haunted house novel.
10. Our Lady of Darkness, by Fritz Leiber – A very Jamesian horror novel, one of the few really good ones in a contemporary urban setting.

For those who are wondering, I’ll try to clarify why there are no recent books on the list. Basically, in my tortured mind, for a book to be rated that highly, it must be something that lingers in my mind, something that I can go back and re-read and still love. I've read a lot of good stuff in the last year by Brian Keene, Edward Lee, Simon Clark, and others, but I've got to let them marinate in my head before I'm ready to compare them to the classics.

The Town

Bentley Little is, to my tastes, one of the most dependable horror writers out there. I rarely feel his work rises into the “exceptional” category, but his prolific output always falls into the “good” category at least. Since he published a lot during the years I wasn’t reading horror fiction, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and my most recent book of his to read was The Town.

The Town is set, as is much of Little’s work, in Arizona, where the stereotypical ancient evil is rising to prey on the inhabitants of a small town. What sets this novel apart from most is the culture that is predominant in the book, that of the real-life sub-group, the Molokans. The Molokans are ethnically Russians and are a splinter group of the Orthodox Church of Russia (Molokan means “milk-drinker” in Russian, and refers to an act of defiance by the group in Russia, when they drank milk during a fasting period). According to the acknowledgements page, Little has relatives who are Molokans, and it is their beliefs and superstitions that define the supernatural threat faced by the characters in the book.

Gregory Tomasov, who grew up a Molokan in the small Arizona town of McGuane but moved to California, wins the lottery and returns to the town in which he grew up with his wife and three small children, as well as his elderly mother, who is far more religious than any of the younger Tomasovs. Unbeknownst to Gregory, strange things are happening in McGuane. A woman gives painful birth to a cactus with a human face. A man grows a new member from his navel. A church grows hair. This is all linked to Molokan belief and custom, and to protect his family, Gregory must re-embrace ideals he thought he’d left behind.

This is another solid Bentley Little book. It deftly alternates the grotesque and the mundane. If you’re a Bentley Little fan, or a fan of horror who’s never read him, you should take a look at it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

When Evil Calls

Ah, the uncertain life of the horror fan. Bewitched by appealing boxcovers, lured by exciting trailers, we find ourselves watching drek with a good boxcover and trailer. This brings us to When Evil Calls.

Samantha (Jennifer Lim from Hostel) is a student at a British high school. Like most girls with actress-quality looks, she is a shunned social outcast, only noticed by popular kids when they need someone to ridicule. One of them even stomps her cell phone, an event as catastrophic to today’s teens as double amputation was back in the day. While trying to fix it in her bedroom, exactly what always happens occurs: an evil clown appears. He tells her she can have any one wish, as long as she forwards the offer to classmates. What a deal. Samantha wishes for popularity, and sends it on.

It goes well for Samantha, and soon she is hanging with the popular kids, and shunning the outcasts. Her success was just marketing, as we watch one after another of her peers, none of whom have read The Monkey’s Paw, make wishes that go awry. These are all telegraphed and predictable. An ugly girl (ugly in the movie sense, which means she wears glasses) wishes she were prettier than Amy. Amy gets acid splashed in her face. A girl sees her boyfriend with another girl, and wishes she would never see him again. When she goes running down the hallway toward a pair of spread, sharp scissors, we know she’ll fall, and where the scissors will go. The most inexplicable punishment comes when a horny student, watching the girls play basketball, wishes for x-ray vision. I thought he’d be grossed out looking at the girls' internal organs, but due to a low budget, he actually gets to see the girls bounce around naked. The twist is that he is then traumatized because he can also see his male teachers nude. I dunno, at 16, I would have taken that deal.

The most interesting thing about the movie is its origin. It was originally done as brief, serialized two-minute clips for mobile phones. In order to rip off DVD consumers, the clips were compiled to make a movie. The 40 minute run time was stretched to 76 minutes by adding Sean Pertwee (one of my favorite actors) as the janitor, “telling” the story to the camera. He recaps the previous accident, previews the next one and makes a pun between each clip. I hope he was well paid for what looks like a days' work.

The only thing left to say is When Evil Calls is much worse than it sounds in the description I’ve given.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Fireworks is a novel from a few years ago by the increasingly popular James A. Moore. I’ve had several of his books buried in my TBR pile, but this is the first one I’ve read. The others will receive bumps upward after this.

Collier, Georgia, a small town in the southern part of the state, is generally unremarkable. It’s one minor claim to distinction is the annual Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza, which attracts a few tourists. One such celebration, however, attracts a more memorable visitor, as a large alien spacecraft crashes into the town’s adjacent lake at the end of the fireworks display. The resulting shockwave and heat given off by the crash kills nearly 150 of the town’s residents, and causes a bit (probably not as much as would have happened) panic.

The real problem for the townspeople comes quickly after the crash, when they are cut off from the outside world, prevented from leaving, and taken over by a group of black-uniformed soldiers, who claim to be representatives of the government, and soon demonstrate their willingness to kill any local who disagrees with their orders. Their primary mission is to cover-up the crash, and the people of Collier begin to understand that no one who is aware of the crash can be allowed to live.

The spaceship itself is a MacGuffin in this story. The novel is about the town’s residents coping with a military takeover. The book is presented in three main sections, each told from the viewpoint of a different character, the first being Frank, the town’s chief of police, then Karen, a young local woman, and finally Jack, one of the occupying soldiers.

There are several things introduced in the novel that are not dealt with, and it begs for a sequel. For instance, a teenage boy manages to enter the downed spacecraft, but we never learn what happens to him inside. In fact, little of the nature of the spacecraft is learned.

The cover of the book is filled with unfortunate comparisons to Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, unfortunate in the fact they denigrate King to the favor of this book. While there are superficial resemblances to Dreamcatcher, I don’t think the connection is as strong as most seem to believe, and can’t see what’s to be gained by criticizing King.

Anyway, I strongly recommend Fireworks, and I enjoyed it enough that you will see other James A Moore novels reviewed here in the future.

The Lost

Sarah Langan’s short story “The Lost” is part of the chapbook series published by Cemetery Dance. Although truly brief, this story of a young woman slowly disappearing (Starting with a fingertip and progressing) is evocative and moody. I haven’t read anything else by Ms. Langan, but this left me wanting to read more.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Of all of this current batch of 8 Films To Die For, the one I was most looking forward to after reading the initial description was Unearthed. It’s the kind of creature feature I usually go for (how many participles will dangle in this piece?), with an underground critter run amok, and a group of individuals thrown together, trying to survive. It has Emmanuelle Vaugier, one of the truly smokin’ hot actresses of the day, hot enough to get me to watch House of the Dead II. Twice. And I liked Matthew Leutwyler, first effort, Dead & Breakfast, well enough, as it was a flawed but generally entertaining zombedy. So, couldn’t wait.

Sometimes life just disappoints you. Unearthed is a good contender to be the worst of the 8 movies in the set. It was poorly lit, poorly filmed, poorly acted and poorly written.

It starts in semi-classic style. Vaugier is the sheriff of a small town somewhere in the mostly barren West. She is one week from losing her job. It is slowly revealed in incoherent, fuzzy flashbacks that she killed a child. Due to the difficult-to-follow aspects of the flashbacks, it is hard to tell if she killed the kid as an accident while trying to shoot the girl’s father instead, or if the kid just pissed her off. Anyway, Vaugier is now drinking heavily, either from guilt or reading the final script. This has divided the townspeople into those who still support her, and those who want her gone. Sometimes characters switch sides on this is mid-scene. There are several Native Americans in the community, and they support Vaugier, despite the possibility the kakked kid was herself NA, because they are one with the Great Spirit, and know Vaugier is one hot mama. Or that her soul is pure.

Luke Goss, who played the creepy, face-splitting vampire in Blade II, is also on hand. He is either an archaeologist, Indian sympathizer, grave robber or professional monster killer, it’s a bit vague. Whatever he is, he has tattoos all over his face, so if he’s an archaeologist, I hope he got tenure first. He is an asshole beyond the bounds of ordinary assholery, even shooting someone at one point because they tried to sensibly run away. As the movie starts, a truck driver is attacked by something, causing his rig to jackknife and block the road out of town. This is trouble because that’s a one way road, baby, and everyone in town is now trapped. Also, as is usually the case when there’s a wreck, the entire town, including the pumps, instantly runs out of gas. Right as this happens, the last characters drive into the now-useless gas station. They are Token Black and Two Hot Chicks. If you watch horror movies, you get the feeling these three won’t be laughing through the credits.

Anyway, our stereotypical band is soon under attack from the creature. A few characters so minor as to not even be types get killed, then Tattoo Face shows up to snarl some exposition. It seems that long ago, the Native Americans in the area encountered a strange creature that was either a monster from deep in the earth, an alien, or a robot. Seriously, this was all discussed, but it was unclear as to which was the explanation. The monster/alien/robot was at first friendly, but then got pissed and ran amok. The Native Americans sent it into hibernation using ancient Native American Technology, and it has been buried ever since. Tattoo Face is dedicated to destroying or re-imprisoning the monster, so he digs it up and sets it free so he can try to put it back. That doesn’t make any sense to me, either. The monster may have been held inside a jar, as several cast members stare at a piece of pottery for quite a while. After this, the narrative becomes disjointed, because I picked up a guitar and practiced the transition from D to D7 for the rest of the movie.

Leutwyler understands that darkness is scary, which accounts for his decision to shoot 90% of the movie in near-pitch darkness. He does not understand, that when you film in darkness, the audience can’t see anything, which made it impossible to tell what was happening. Sample audience dialogue:

WIFE: Is the creature attacking?
ME: No, it’s the two guys fighting over the gun.

A momentary flash of light reveals it’s Vaugier trying to start a truck.

I can’t remember how it ends, but I can tell you one of the cast (guess who) has to make a redemptive sacrifice. This is all done to a nu-metal soundtrack.

I think I would recommend avoiding this one.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Iron Man

The wife and I finally made it to see Marvel’s production of Iron Man this weekend. Although it has received some mild criticism from some reviewers for a lack of action scenes, our consensus feeling was it is the best of the comic book adaptations, at least the best first movie of a potential franchise. The casting is superb, particularly Robert Downey, Jr. as the lead (he was born to play Tony Stark) and Jeff Bridges as Obediah Stane.

The movies opens in Afghanistan, where dissolute arms maker Tony Stark (Downey) is making a presentation on a new weapons system. The convoy is ambushed, Stark is wounded and taken prisoner, and most disturbingly to him, the ordnance used by the attackers bears the manufacturing stamp of his own Stark Enterprises. He is imprisoned with a local scientist named Yinsen (played very well by Shaun Toub, although I feel I should note that Toub was supposed to do an interview with us on another site, and flaked out, so he is dead to me), who rigs an electromagnet to prevent flechettes embedded in his chest from reaching his heart, creating a device that Stark quickly improves. They are supposed to build their terrorist captors a copy of Stark’s latest weapon, but, of course, he builds a prototype of the first Iron Man armor, destroys the camp in a rampage, and flies to safety.

As a comic book geek aside, in the original comic origin story, which was released in the mid-60s, the ambush took place in Viet Nam. It’s nice to know we’ll always have a suitable conflict with which to update this story.

Back in the US, Stark has had an epiphany after seeing his weapons arming the bad guys, and he is determined to cease arm sales, and channel Stark Industries production into more helpful-to-humanity areas. Oh, and he upgrades the armor. Meanwhile, his partner Stane (Bridges) is working against him. The whole thing culminates in a battle between Iron Man and his much larger counterpart Iron Monger. And of course, the stage is set for a sequel.

There are a few cleverly placed in-jokes. If you look carefully at Stane’s fake invoices as they fly by, you’ll see the fake name he uses is “Lebowski”, a reference, of course, to Bridge’s other role in The Big Lebowski. There is also a brief but essential scene after the credits, so wait through them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Mist in Black & White

(Since this a review of an alternate version of a film that’s been out for a while, it probably contains spoilers. If you haven’t seen The Mist, read at your own discretion.)

When Stephen King wrote his classic novella The Mist, first printed in the great collection Dark Forces in 1980, he envisioned it as a throwback to the black & white creature features of the 50s, particularly referencing the films of Bert I. Gordon. Although it may well be the most cinematic of King’s works, it wasn’t until 2007 that Frank Darabont was able to bring it to the screen, and although Darabont shared King’s vision, by this time a black & white film was seen as a commercial impossibility. Technology, however, offered new options. Additional features have long been a staple on DVD releases, and with the advent of digital filming, it is no longer necessary to cut a negative to get a print of the movie, so removing the color is relatively simple. Therefore, on the 2-disc version of The Mist, the most interesting feature is a presentation of the movie in black & white. As someone who loves old movies, and who liked the color version of the movie, I was eager to see if this works.

Black & white is, of course, a “retro” look for movies, and it does give the movie a timeless look, putting it more squarely in the locale of 50s/60s movies like THEM! Or Night of the Living Dead, although the violence is obviously more graphic than anything seen in 1954. The major advantage of black & white photography is the starkness of the contrast in the images, which brought out small features unnoticed originally. For example, the spider-creatures have some very unusual looking teeth. There is also an inherent spookiness in the shadows of b & w photography, which has given the old film noirs their distinctive look.

The major downside of this version is the movie was not shot in black & white. This is a decision, along with film stock, whether or not to go digital, etc., that informs many of the artistic choices in shooting the film. Lighting, costuming, set design, and makeup decisions are made with an eye toward how the film will look in theaters. (The makeup used on performers in the Gold Age of Hollywood, in fact, was a light green, which made skin tone show up well in b& w.). For this reason, The Mist in Black & White doesn’t look quite like a b & w movie, but a color movie with the color turned off. It doesn’t look quite natural.

As for as the movie itself, the elements which worked well in the theatrical version still work here. There is a claustrophobic sense of suspense, and you feel the growing desperation of the characters as their hopes begin to fail. If you liked it in color, no reason you shouldn’t like it in black & white.

I’d like to recap a few differences between the movie and the original story, and my opinion of the changes. There were three major changes that I caught, not counting the new characters and sub-plots added to stretch out the story. (Here’s where the spoilers start.)

First of all, the suicide of the two soldiers is moved. In the story, as soon as the soldiers realize something’s happened, they hang themselves, and in the film it is moved toward the end of the action. I think the story version is much creepier. There’s something about the idea of these two young men, who know more than the rest what’s going on, seeing the mist and the first thing to come out of it, and saying, that’s it, we’re fucked beyond hope, and deciding it would be better to die than try to survive. Moving this mutes the horror of it, in my opinion.

Secondly, the fate of David Drayton’s wife. In the story, the survivors try to reach his wife, but can’t get to the lake house because of fallen trees, while in the movie, they reach it to find her killed by the spider-things. While the movie’s treatment is more visually arresting, the true horror is in the story. Not knowing the fate of a loved one, but imagining the worst, is more horrifying than anything you could know. I would have preferred the ambiguity of the story.

The final change, and the one I do like, is the controversial ending. In the story, it ends with the survivors journeying on through an endless mist, hoping to find some limit to it. In the movie, David Drayton is driven to the end of his hope and makes a tragic and fateful choice. This has been one of the more polarizing things to have happened in movies in a long time. Some people love it for its gut-wrenching impact, while others passionately hate it because of Drayton’s mistake. I’m with the former, but there is no right or wrong answer, you’ll have to judge for yourself. And you should.

Friday, May 9, 2008


For those of us who enjoy horror films, the Eight Films To Die For series has been a mixed blessing. It has increased the amount of product available, so we have more movies on DVD to pass our lonely nights. On the other hand, the quality of the movies has been, to put it charitably, low. Still, we horror freaks are an optimistic lot, and since I have already seen the worst movie ever made with The Invisible, there’s nowhere to go but up, and so I plopped down my $70 to buy this year’s set. First up is Borderland.

Set in Mexico, the movie is based on the Matamoros ritual killings of the late 80s, in which a drug smuggler killed a large number of people in human sacrifices so the gods would protect his product from customs officials, although most of the details are fictionalized. It starts off with the slow torture and murder of a Mexican policeman, shown in loving detail. This was not an auspicious beginning, as it looked like another torture porn Hostel-type movie. I have nothing against gore, and don’t have a weak stomach, but it has to be in service to the story, or its pointless.

The scene then shifts to South Texas, where best pals Ed (bound for Stanford), Henry (for Wharton. We know he’s weak of character because he wants to make money) and Phil (a religious virgin) are getting ready for a last blow-out before leaving for school. They are headed to Mexico for some drinkin’ and fornicatin’, apparently unaware that’s what you do at college anyway. Things look bad for Phil since, in a type of gender bias, female virgins tend to be the survivors of horror flicks, while male virgins inevitably get kakked.

Once in Mexico, they drink a little, make some lame attempts to get busy, buy an $80 hooker for Phil (Eliot Spitzer, you got gypped) and try some awkward male bonding. An evil fate is in store for them, however. It seems the local drug lord has been sacrificing the citizenry to get mystical protection for his shipments, and the last one was intercepted. Hmmm, he thinks, in what would be blatant racism if he weren’t Mexican himself, maybe it’s the cheap Mexican sacrifices that have been the problem. A nice gringo would work better. Bad news for one of our trio.

In due course, one of them is kidnapped after taking an innocent midnight stroll alone through the bad section of Matamoros, and the other two began to try to rescue him. There is an intriguing scene where one of the superstitious henchmen of the drug lord tries to execute one of the pair, but fails when his gun mysteriously will not fire. This screams Plot Point! But ultimately amounts to nothing.

Ultimately with the aid of a beautiful bartender from a strip joint, the forces of righteousness achieve a sort of closure.

Despite my snarky tone, the movie isn’t half bad. It’s a decent Americans-in-a-foreign-land suspense piece, and a solid way to pass an evening. It suffers a bit from forced moral reconsideration of the characters, as when the surviving gringo asks if he could shoot someone. “I think so,” he says slowly. “If I had to.” At this point, his two best friends have been tortured to death, and the drug psychos are trying to kill him and his girlfriend. In that situation, Ghandi would have capped their asses, and I found it a bit irritating that he wouldn’t get with the program. The movie also loses one point for casting a hobbit (Sean Astin), but gets it back through the disposition of said hobbit. (I hate hobbits. Call me racist if you like.) There is also a nice documentary on the real Matamoros slayings, if you like that sort of thing, and a useless one where everyone tells the director how great he is. The video transfer is adequate, although the sound is so muddy I occasionally had to turn on subtitles to be sure what the characters were saying. If this sounds good to you, give it a try.

Welcome to Dead in the South

I’m told it’s important to have one of these posts that tell what the blog is about and why you’re doing it, so here it is. (Since the, er, mission statement comes first, when you have no readers, I assume no one actually reads it) I have been blogging for over a year (That’s about fifteen years in real world time) over at my website A Disordered Mind. I do this strictly for my own enjoyment, so the other blog has always been a hodge-podge of everything that interests me. A prime avocation of mine is horror, whether it be print or filmed, and many of my posts were about that, mixed in with more mundane, humor-oriented posts.

Then something unexpected happened: people were actually reading the blog. Oh, not in incredible numbers, but over the last six months, I’ve averaged about 150 unique users a day, which was at least 149 more than I expected. After this happened, I started getting comments on the content of the site. Those concerning the overall site devolved into two basic themes:

“I love your humorous stories! You’re as funny as my uncle Alvin who had to be committed. But I don’t like reading about books describing giant mutant snails eating Cleveland. Drop the horror stuff.”


“Dude, zombies! You rock! But, listen, nobody wants to read that shit about what happens when your dog eats a pack of gum. Stick to the gore, man.”

It was obvious I needed to split the content. Fortuitously, (I use big words to counteract the effect of writing about mutant snails) I received an invitation from Matt Staggs, Cthulhu bless him, to join in the blogging on his great site skullring. So I transferred my horror stuff over there, shocking and aweing his readers with the sheer quantity of dangling participles and unnecessary parenthetical statements in my posts. This went on well, until today, when Matt decided to pull the skullring plug.

So, I decided on putting my horror content on a new site. To spare further suspense, this is it. In the days to come, I will have ill-conceived reviews of books and DVDs, most of which will have some horror content. I will be re-posting my material from skullring (because such deathless prose must not be lost), so if you read the old site, some might seem familiar. Any horror-related news which comes to my attention will also be here. I also welcome any suggestions, either in the comments, or by e-mail to

So. Zombies!