Monday, August 31, 2009

Goat Dance

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of its publication, Douglas Clegg has placed his novel Goat Dance on-line, where you can read it for free. You can find it at Scribd. This classic novel will be up for a limited time only, so read it while you can.


No, not her.

Apparently, the jungles of Central America have been home to tribes of vampires for centuries. Out of fear, they have mostly avoided interaction with man, other than feeding on the occasional cow or goat. However, the destruction by man of the rain forests (cursed deforestation!) has pushed them out into the open, so they have decided to take everything over.

Fortunately, the United States has an elite military unit of absolute badasses in the area doing…something. Which is fortunate, because whatever country this is does not seem to have a police force or military of their own. The soldiers are all of difficult-to-pin-down rank, but it doesn’t matter, since all the actors are playing Sergeant Rock anyway.

The vampires in this one aren’t afraid of sunlight (they don’t sparkle, though), garlic, crosses or such, although they don’t like having wood shoved through their heart. (One bright spot: when the soldiers encounter the vampires it takes them about 30 seconds to come to grip with the whole vampire thing, so no time wasting) They tear out a lot of throats, although they don’t seem to spend much time feeding. Wasteful. Like Bond villains, they waste too much time explaining their nefarious plans to their victims rather than just killing them.

The cast features genre stalwarts Casper van Dien (Starship Troopers), Kevin Grevioux (Underworld), Alexis Cruz (Stargate) and Danny Trejo (everything). They do the best they can, and I’d watch Trejo in just about anything. The movie is directed by Kevin VanHook, and I will say he’s improved a lot since Frost: Portrait of a Vampire, since that is one of the worst movies ever made. If you have a sense of humor and an appreciation of bad movies, you might be able to get something out of this one, otherwise, give it a pass.

Dead of Night: Devil Slayer (TPB)

Devil Slayer is a Marvel Comics (soon to be run into the ground by Disney) character that appeared (and mostly disappeared) during a period in which I wasn’t paying any attention to comics, so I had no preconceived notions about the character. So this won’t be one of those “Noooooooooo how could you change the cape” sort of reviews.

Danny Sylva is a soldier returning to Iraq after a period out of the Army. He was a good soldier, but is struggling with several personal flaws. He isn’t in Iraq long enough to adjust to the heat when he and his men are sent on a hostage rescue mission. They go straight into a trap set by Bloodstone, a group of civilian “contractors” (mercenaries) working for the U.S. government in country. All of the soldiers but Sylva are killed. Bloodstone is more or less an analog for the real-life questionable contractor Blackwater, right down to being demonic agents trying to start a war between heaven and hell so that demons can rule the earth. I figure that’s what Blackwater is up to.

Sylva escapes from the ambush, but finds himself pursued both by Bloodstone and the U.S. Army, since he has been blamed for the killings of his men. Bloodstone is led by what is apparently to be his arch-enemy, a demon named Belathauzer. (Sometimes comic book lettering bleeds together, and I spent the first part of the story convinced the demon’s name was Breathalyzer, which seemed odd.) Fortunately for him, he runs into a “journalist” and his assistant who informs him he is the latest in a long line of Devil-Slayers (his uncle was apparently one, too) and fighting them is his destiny. Not the best destiny to have, but what are you gonna do? They also tell him where he can get a very useful weapon to fight his enemies, and only he can stop the upcoming Armageddon.

Written by Brian Keene (Darkness on the Edge of Town, Castaways, Ghost Walk), the story is fast paced, and there is even a scene of the Devil-Slayer fighting more-or-less zombies. Like most comics starting out or re-launching, it seems a little slow to get a feel for the character. As enjoyable as it was, it really needs a longer story arc to develop its own mythology, although at present there are no known plans for the character beyond the four issue miniseries. The art is by Chris Samnee, who also does a good job.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On a Non-Genre Note

Stepping out side of reviews about cities being destroyed by giant wasps and the like, I'd like to make a more serious comment than normally seen on this site. Malcolm Gladwell, acclaimed author of the obvious, has written an article published in The New Yorker, about To Kill A Mockingbird which apparently isn't obvious enough for him to grasp. In it, he takes to task the character of Atticus Finch, who he feels is a racist and a coward. I would like to offer the following rebuttal to Mr. Gladwell: He is an idiot. And he looks funny.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sea Beast

The Sci-Fi Channel keeps on releasing low-quality beast-centric crap on DVD. Who do they think is stupid enough to buy this stuff? D’oh! I do, of course. Curse your evil plan, Sci-Fi/SyFy Channel! You with your deceptively cool-looking box covers.

Will McKenna (Corin Nemec, Stargate SG-1) is a down-on-his-luck fishing boat captain. He’s just returned without a catch, and after losing a crewman to a rogue wave during a storm. Although he could have sworn he saw a creature come up from the water and snatch the unlucky crewman, that’s just crazy talk. Back home, he has to contend with a miserable guy he owes money to, and a suspicion his daughter is secretly dating one of his crew members, which is true.

His mundane problems are about to seem unimportant, because some of the creatures he saw have followed him back for a human smorgasbord. In keeping with horror movie tradition, the black guy is the first victim.

The creatures are described by everyone as looking just like an anglerfish, which is annoying since they actually look like a grey version of Venom from the Spider-man comics. They have a tongue that can grab prey from several yards away, and spit green goo that first paralyzes their victims, and eventually kills them, if they’re not eaten first. They can also make themselves invisible, useful in ripping off a scene or two from Predator. (Unexplained is how, when they come out of the water, they are also able to make the water that should be clinging to them invisible as well, but they are always shown dry. For a sea creature, they spend the vast majority of their time on land. It could be worse. Since the original title of the movie was Troglodyte, that would have made even less sense.

Anyway, the creatures show up and wreak havoc with the local population. No help can reach them due to the bad weather, although we see nothing but clear skies, so I imagine the potential rescue parties just don’t like the citizens of the town. Daughter and crewman have gone off for a weekend on a nearby island, where they are besieged by the creatures. Crewman is bitten by one of the creatures, but he treats it as no big deal, odd since he’s been bitten by something unknown to man, and his hand seems to be rotting away. There are indications the bite is causing him to change, but the moviemakers got bored with that subplot and dropped it. There is a humorous moment where daughter drops a big rock on one of the creatures’ extended tongues, causing it to slam its head against the rock when it is pulled in, but the light touches are few and far between. Daughter is a regular Buffy in this one. While three men with guns are no match for one creature, the young girl kills what seems like hundreds of them with whatever crude weapons are at hand.

Eventually, McKenna arrives, discovers the nest of the creatures, and rigs the most godawful Rube Goldberg device in history to blow them up. McKenna forgives his daughter for sneaking around and dating the crewman, since he got eaten anyway and is no longer a threat.

There’s not a lot to like here. The CGI is about as bad as they come, and most of the plot is equally nonsensical. I normally like Corin Nemec, but here he’s saddled with a wretched haircut and gives an uneven performance, and the female lead is so bland as to be unnecessary. Something that always irritates me: In almost every scene, nemec pops a cigar in his mouth, but only twice does he light the goddamned thing.

I realize I am the enabler in this relationship.


I obsess over the stupidest things. According to Google Analytics, for some time I've been getting a steady stream of visitors to the site who got here by clicking on a link somewhere on the Internet Movie database site (, and I haven't been able to find it in its tangled web of pages. I assume somewhere there is a post that says "Hey, check out all the things this idiot got wrong." I realize it doesn't matter, but if you reached this site from imdb and notice this post, would you mind posting exactly where you clicked? Then I can mark this mystery solved and go on to the next irrelevent thing. Thanks.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Totem

The Totem is one of those horror novels considered to be iconic. I read it way, way back in the 1980s, and most of the details had fled my mind, so I thought it was time to give it a re-read. It is considered by its author David Morrell, to be his one out and out horror novel, and appears in Horror: The 100 Best Books. The version I read is a relatively new one. Apparently, when the book was published back in the 70s, the publisher convinced Morrell to cut it severely, making it, in the author’s words, “twice as fast, half as long.” The revision was done for the late Donald Grant’s company in the early 90s.

Nathaniel Slaughter is the police chief of a small town called Potter’s Field (we’re getting into Pilgrim’s Progress territory here) in the American West. Slaughter had been a big city cop who fled to what he hoped would be a quieter, saner existence. This has worked out pretty well, but now animals and people are turning up missing, and there have been strange attacks by an unknown animal. Before it’s over, Chief Slaughter will probably wish he’d stayed in Detroit.

This is more-or-less a werewolf novel, although the transformation is accomplished by a rabies-like virus rather than some supernatural means. Slaughter is a likeable character, and the reader finds himself rooting for him, especially against the stereotypically sleazy mayor. Morrell, as always, has a gift for words.

But I can’t help feeling his long-ago editor may have gotten it right. This is a very deliberately paced novel, and it suffers in many places with the reader moving ahead of the protagonists in figuring out what’s going on. It’s a long road to the climax, and when you finally get there, you feel it is over too soon, considering how long it took to get there. There is a point where all the secrets have been revealed, and you’re ready for the big finish, but the book still meanders along a little bit first.

It’s still not a bad book, Morrell is too talented for that. I just don’t think this version deserves a place on a list of the 100 best books in horror. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to re-read the original version one day to compare the two.

The Killing Gene

The relative success of films like Saw and Hostel have given rise to a new subgenre know as “torture porn.” At first glance, the 2007 film The Killing Gene (known as WΔz outside the U.S.) seems to fit the category, but to me it rises above that limited class of movies.

New detective Helen Westcott (Melissa George) arrives at the scene of a brutal murder. A young pregnant woman has been electrocuted and her body dumped. Westcott is assigned a new partner, the precinct “asshole” Eddie Argo (the brilliant Stellan Skarsgård). They discover the symbols WΔz have been carved into the body (this is the first part of the Price Equation, by which geneticists and ethicists examine the behavior of animals).

The detectives soon discover the killer is conducting cruel “experiments” in which someone is tied to a chair and tortured, while the person they love most is strapped into an electric chair. To end the torture, all they have to do is press the switch and electrocute the one they love. They also find the victims are all linked to a terrible crime which occurred a few years previously.

This is a somber movie, but manages to focus on the depths of the characters rather than the gore. The cast is excellent, although the final “revelation” is somewhat telegraphed, in my opinion. It does a good job of manipulating how you feel about events without falling into many of the predictable traps.

The biggest problem with the movie was the somewhat muddy sound quality (I don’t know if it had anything to do with it, but while the actors use generic American accents, they are mostly from outside the U.S.A., and that would probably require even more ADR than usual). Be prepared to turn subtitles on occasionally to understand what is said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


The success of The Keep in 1981 made F. Paul Wilson a hot commodity in the then-exploding horror market, and his publisher was eager to follow it up. Wilson gave them Rakoshi, for release in 1984. The publisher liked it, but wanted a title easier to tie in to The Keep, and suggested The Tomb. There isn’t a tomb in it, Wilson protested. No one will notice or care, said the publisher. It’s always nice to end this sort of story with an anecdote that illustrates how the creative guy was right, but here you have to score one for the suits: The Tomb was a hit, and very few people noticed it was tomb-less.

Twenty years later, Borderlands Press brought out a revised version of the book under the original name, and that is the volume reviewed here.

This is the first of the “Repairman Jack” series. Repairman Jack is a fellow who lives off the grid, with no valid ID, Social Security number, or any of the other things through which we are tracked in life. Jack’s job is to “fix” things – hence the moniker – but not appliances. If you are a businessman being shaken down in a protection racket, Jack will fix it. If something valuable is stolen from you but for some reason you can’t go to the police, Jack will recover it. Jack has become one of the most if not the most enduring characters of weird fiction, with twelve books (and three Young Adult novels) published chronicling his exploits and Wilson says it will stretch to fifteen before concluding.

The story begins when Jack is hired by an Indian diplomat to recover an amulet, stolen from his grandmother in a mugging. Jack does so with flair, but there is something decidedly strange about the amulet. At the same time, Jack’s ex-girlfriend Gia asks him to help find one of her aunts, who has disappeared. In my only criticism of the book, in an improbable coincidence, this disappearance is linked to the Indian diplomat and the strange amulet.

It seems the Indian is involved in a revenge plot stretching back over a hundred years, and has bred an ancient malevolent race of beings called the Rakoshi to do his bidding. These creatures are large and powerful, as well as virtually unkillable, so Jack has his work cut out for him. Fortunately, he is resourceful.

Rakoshi, in either of its incarnations, is a great book. Jack, who is something of a manifestation of Wilson’s libertarian political philosophy, is a very appealing character, and it is easy to see why his fans clamored for his return. It is a hot kick-off for the series.

My memory is not strong enough, and I don’t have an inclination to do enough research, to analyze the changes made between the first publication and this edition. The one thing that seemed apparent was the updating of technology: jack has a big screen TV, everyone uses cell phones, etc.

SPOILER WARNING. When I first read the book at the time of its initial paperback release, and before Jack was brought back in the ongoing series, I believed the book’s ending meant Jack died. Even though I know he comes back, it still reads that way to me.

Ginger Nuts of Horror

Everyone can come up with a better title for their blog than I can. Ginger Nuts of Horror is a relatively new blog written by my good friend Jim McLeod. Jim lives in the remote East Asian country of Scotland, so he reviews books we don't often here about here in the U.S. of A. Jim is a righteous and entertaining guy, so check out his blog. if nothing else, you can trade insults in a Scottish dialect.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Trapped Ashes or: Did Your Boobie Just Bite Me?

A lot of people say the short story is the essence of horror, and they’ve got a lot of evidence on their side. Unfortunately, the attempts to transfer the short story format to film, in the form of “anthology” movies, haven’t proved effective. The latest misfire of this type that I have seen is a movie called Trapped Ashes, which has a number of segments directed by well-known persons such as Ken Russell, Joe Dante, Monte Hellman, and Sean Cunningham.

A small group of tourists are on a golf-cart tour of an old movie studio, when they go to a house on the lot where a famous horror movie was filmed (pretty much the house from Psycho on the Universal lot). Once inside, they can’t get out, and the ancient diminutive guide suggests the best thing for them to do is to each tell a story about some horrible event that has happened in their lives. I know what you would do in the same circumstances. Strangle the little bastard and use his stiffened corpse as a battering ram to break out. So would I. But the dim travelers decide to humor him.

The starlet of the group tells the first story. Stuck at a career standstill, she decided to get breast augmentation, from a surgeon who used corpse meat instead of silicone. Uh huh. The increased breastage gives her career a lift, but there’s a catch: her new tits have to drink blood to survive. Really. I couldn’t make this up if I tried. Each nipple has a little mouth in it that latches on to someone and sucks their blood. Rather than run screaming from her vampiric boobies, her co-star seems into it. This was directed by Ken Russell, who seems to have some sort of nipple fetish. (He also appears in semi-drag with blood-sucking teats of his own, along with a couple other old guys)

After that, we segue into very long and tedious stories about a woman seduced by a corpse, a girl was “twin” was the tapeworm her mother had while the girl was in the womb (!), and a director who had an affair with his best friend’s girl, who seemed evil in a poorly defined way. Then the movie ends in a twist we all saw coming.

Perhaps this is what they call “bizarre”. If so, I’m not much of a fan.

A Subtle Message

I suggested this to John Hornor Jacobs, and he's placed it on his awesome blog, but it's too good not to share:

This is located on I-65 North of Montgomery.

No, he hasn't gotten me yet, but I do increase my speed slightly every time I pass this.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pod of Horror #55

Mark Justice' Pod of Horror, the best horror-related podcast in the known universe, has just posted their 55th episode. You can download it or listen to it at Mark interviews David Jack Bell, Nick Cato, and site favorite, the enormous and talented Steven L. Shrewsbury. As always, the beautiful Nanci Kalanta has all the news and latest goings-on in horror to share with the listeners. Check it out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Donald M. Grant, R.I.P.

Donald M. Grant, one of the great publishers in the horror genre, and who published a lot of books presently on my shelves, has died at the age of 82. May he rest in peace.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Duma Key

Thirty years ago, when Stephen King was just beginning his career, one of his early proponents was John D. MacDonald, who wrote the introduction to King’s collection Night Shift, and mentioned King’s work in several of his own books. MacDonald was, of course, the progenitor of the “Florida novel”, a type of book that takes advantage of Florida’s unusual geography and demographic makeup. Now Stephen King has written his own “Florida novel”, Duma Key.

The protagonist of Duma Key is Edgar Freemantle, a successful building contractor in Minnesota. Edgar’s pleasant life is shattered in an on-site accident, which costs him his right arm, and leaves him with problems from an excessively shaken brain. The accident leads to the end of his career, the break-up of his marriage, and his estrangement from his previous life. On the advice of his therapists, he relocates to Florida, and takes up painting, a skill for which he finds he has great talent. He also finds something far more sinister, that there is something wrong with his new home, something which is giving power to his work, power to change reality.

At first glance, this seems like a more-or-less standard setup for a horror novel. But King works wonders here. This is a novel of supernatural horror, but it is also about dealing with loss, about trying to find redemption, and coping with redemption. Edgar pays a terrible price for his new skills.

As always, King is a master of characterization. The book is filled with indelible characters, like the beach philosopher Wireman, and his charge, Elizabeth Eastbrook. You develop feelings for the characters, which gives great power to their ultimate fates.

A lot of people delight in criticizing King’s recent work. Depending on who you ask, his masterpiece is either Salem’s Lot, The Stand, The Shining, or It, all books written in the first few years of his career. This book is very different. It is written by a man looking at 60, not at 30, and while it may not have the exuberant pacing of King’s first few novels, it more than makes up for it in the maturity of the writing. I have been a faithful reader of Stephen King since the beginning, and, in my opinion, this is one of the best things he’s ever written. And that is high praise, indeed.

Douglas Clegg Launches New On-line Serial

Douglas Clegg has given a gift to his fans - a free novel available in installments on-line. The story is called The Locust, and the first installment has just been e-mailed. If you are a fan of Douglas Clegg, you won't want to miss this, and if you haven't read any of his work, this is a great chance to give it a try. You can sign up at his website,

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Beast House

I’m a fan of the late, great Richard Laymon , and I just finished (re-)reading The Beast House, the second in his Beast House chronicles and a sequel to The Cellar. In fact, The Beast House starts mere months after the conclusion of The Cellar.

If you liked the first part of the trilogy, you should like the second, since it is virtually a fleshed-out retelling of the same plot. This sounds like a denunciation, but Laymon’s directness of style and storytelling make this worth reading even if you’ve already read the first one. I won’t talk too much about the specifics of the story, since that would be a possible spoiler for those who haven’t read the first book. I will say you learn the fates of the surviving characters from the first book, and it all leads to a more final resolution, although I suppose not too final, since there is a third volume, The Midnight Tour. All are available from Leisure Books, and at your local reading emporium.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Tormentor Available For Order

A while back, I reviewed Steven Shrewsbury's new novel Tormentor. I didn't realize at the time it would be two-and-a-half months before it would be available from the publisher, but you can now order it directly from Lachesis here:
If you are a fan of Howardesque, action-packed stories, you should order it. And you can get three of them for the price of one "Limited edition."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Library Thing

Not a name for a novel about a creature that lurks between the stacks; rather, an online service to catalog your books. If you want to snoop through my collection, you can find it at I have only added a small fraction of the volumns cluttering my entire house, but I expect to be finished by late Fall, 2003.


It is easy to see why this is so divisive a movie. From its photographic style to the lack of information given to viewers about the exact nature of the threat, this is a broad deviation from traditional American filmmaking.

Cloverfield is the story of a group of ordinary (by design) vapid twenty-somethings, whose going-away party for one of their group is interrupted by an attack on Manhattan by a giant creature of unknown origin. Once the action starts, it becomes a struggle to survive and escape. The point of view for the film is one of the party-goers, who is given a digital camera to document the festivities. He then uses the camera to record the effects of the attack, and the fate of the surviving members of the group.

The film is shot in a cinéma vérité style, with a herky jerky, up-and-down camera motion, with frequent sharp cuts, much like a standard home movie (there have been reports of some patrons becoming seasick from watching it, but this seems like hyperbole to me). This can be frustrating, as we are used to standard camera work remaining focused on exactly what we want to see; instead we are at the mercy of amateur camera operator “Hud” (Head Up Display, get it?).

There is also a big lack of traditional exposition (you know, the scene where the learned guy comes on and explains exactly what’s happening. If you watched Buffy, think Giles in the library.). The characters only know bits and pieces of what’s going on, and never learn what the creature truly is or how it came to be in Manhattan. This irritates many viewers, but I found it very effective. Part of the terror of being at Ground Zero for a catastrophe would be in not knowing what the hell is going on. You can’t get CNN, and all the cell phone towers are down. The closest they get is asking an army officer what the creature is. The reply: “I don’t know. I only know it’s winning.”

There is also a highly effective set piece, in which the erstwhile party-goers flee through the subway tunnels, only to find they are being chased by dog-sized parasites from the giant creature’s skin. (Helpful hint: If you see all the rats fleeing, you should run in the same direction.) It is a spooky and creepy sequence, with fateful consequences.

There is no escaping Cloverfield as a 9/11 metaphor, with Manhattanites fleeing from an unexpected attack, but this is common to horror movies. King Kong was a metaphor for the passing of the natural world in favor of the new technological age, and Godzilla (which Cloverfield is most closely modeled after) was a metaphor for the atom bomb.

You may love Cloverfield or hate it, but if you want to see a fresh take on an old concept, you should give Cloverfield a chance.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Pounding Your Head on the Desk Hurts

One of the ways the internet has ostensibly increased the pleasure of the reading experience is the amount of access and information we now have about our favorite authors. Whereas in the old days the writer was a fairly mysterious figure, this system of tubes allows us to stalk follow writers and other industry figures pretty closely.

I’m beginning to believe, however, we have reached the point of diminishing returns. I find myself increasingly more likely to be repelled by an author’s actions and views these days, and I’m feeling that a lot today, after a weekend in which one publisher basically called his readers stupid, another indicated he hated it when people actually read the books he sells, and a third showed she doesn’t have a clue what “ad hominem” means. This on the heels of recent laugh riots such as RaceFail, GenderFail, and NippleGate (no kidding).

Then I, much after the fact, learn of the depressing case of science fiction writer John C. Wright. I don’t follow science fiction any more (see RaceFail, See GenderFail, See Nipplegate), so I didn’t recognize the name, although he seems to be quite a successful author. Apparently Mr. Wright posted on his website his view of homosexuals. In his words:

“I am equating homosexuality with sadomasochism, pederasty, necrophilia, bestiality, and other sexual neuroses. While a technical distinction can be drawn between them, they share the fundamental property of being objectively disordered appetites.”

Ugh. Mr. Wright certainly has a right to his opinion, and at least he has the good sense to blame it on the Catholic Church, but wow, that is seriously warped. I’m not a politically correct extremist (I thought NippleGate was phenomenally silly), but it is surprising that an educated person in 2009 could still believe gayness to be a sexual neuroses. All this adds up to a feeling I’d be better off retreating from the web, but I’m probably too dumb to do so.

A much better summation of this can be found at my friend Matt Stagg’s website Enter The Octopus, which you ought to be reading anyway. While I am writing inane, juvenile posts concerning entertainment based around a giant radioactive mutant hamster demolishing Albuquerque, Matt deals with important issues in well reasoned fashion.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to find my Home Trepanation Kit to see if I can get rid of this headache.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

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, an actor a like quite a bit, who has been in a number of horror movies of late, 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.

It comes off as something of a prolonged Twilight Zone episode, but 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. I liked it a lot more than I would have thought I would. Still, if you’ve ever seen or read anything like this, you can predict everything that will happen, right up to the ending.

Apple Of My Eye

Apple of My Eye is a short story collection by Amy Grech, an up-and-coming writer from New York. She packs quite a lot into a fairly short (121 pages) book, with stories that show an emphasis on sexual and body horror. There are 13 stories here, meaning that few clock in at 10 pages or more, and they function as the literary equivalent of sharp jabs. Her prose is provocative, in a deeply disturbing way.

Ms. Grech exhibits a wealth of fascinating ideas, and I would have like to have seen some of the ideas developed into longer pieces, as there would have been more of an opportunity to develop more in the way of characterization. Some of the dialogue reads as a bit stilted as well. I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. You may read more about Ms. Grech and her work here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Night They Missed The Horror Show

I’ve been wrestling for a while with the notion of a list of my favorite short stories, but haven’t gotten anywhere with it because there are just too many from which to choose. If I ever manage to put it together, one story that I know will be near the top is “The Night They Missed the Horror Show” by the legendary Joe R. Lansdale. In addition to being featured in numerous anthologies, it has been issued as a limited edition chapbook by Borderlands Press, as part of their great Dark Voices series, and comes with an audio CD.

The story is pretty simple. Two redneck teens in late-60s Texas, decide not to see “Night of the Living Dead” at the local drive-in – because the lead actor is black. Instead, they go cruising, and make a number of fateful choices. The story is profane, shocking and at times hilarious. If you are easily offended, it probably isn’t right for you.

What makes the new chapbook great is the accompanying CD. On it, you get an audio version of the story, read by Lansdale hisownself. Lansdale’s delivery is perfect, and really brings out the black humor in the piece. The story is accompanied by a few background audio effects, and by a musical score. The only complaint I had about the CD was a few times the music partially drowned out the words. Still, if you are a Lansdale fan (and you should be) or just enjoy a good story, this should be for you. But don’t say I didn’t warn you: the language might curl your hair.

This chapbook is available directly from Borderlands.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Absinthe is a chapbook from Bloodletting Press, containing two short stories, “Papa” by Jack Ketchum and “Bleeding Things” by Tim Lebbon. The two stories tie together by a common use of the titular drink.

At first thought, Jack Ketchum and Tim Lebbon seem unlikely authors to share a book. While both are well-respected, Ketchum is known for his grim and gritty realism, and Lebbon as someone who tends to stay closer to the fantasy side of dark horror. This does result in a jarring transition of tone between the two stories. “Papa” is a vignette about someone mistaken for the late Ernest Hemingway, and “Bleeding Things” is a surreal story set in World War II. “Bleeding Things” was the more interesting of the two, to me. In it, a protagonist who may or may not be a British spy makes his way through Berlin at the end of the war. Everything is disintegrating around and inside him, the internal troubles due to a piece of shrapnel working its way through his brain, destroying memory as it goes. When the story opens, he has already forgotten his name. He becomes fascinated with his discovery of a Jewish woman kept by a Nazi officer who has discovered if she drinks absinthe, she bleeds gold. Lebbon, as always has a most inventive mind.

Definitely recommended for fans of either author.

Friday, August 7, 2009


John Urbancik’s novella Necropolis may not be the perfect read for someone who insists on a traditional more linear story, but for someone who is interesting in a diversion into mood and texture, it offers great possibilities.

Taking place in one night in a large cemetery in New Orleans, Necropolis chronicles the encounters of a three separate groups of visitors with a place where the veil separating the worlds of the dead and living is very thin. A great amount of influence from Edgar Allen Poe is shown, and the entire thing has a very surreal quality. I think it is probably best read without over thinking why something is happening, and instead the reader should just enjoy the ride.

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the marriage of “literary” tropes with genre fiction, but Urbancik has done a good job of melding the two. In its brevity, it is a quick read, and I think it will work best for the reader when started and finished in the same session.

The book, available from publisher Bad Moon Books, features cemetery photographs taken by the author. They are well chosen to fit with the story, and I thought they added a lot.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Crooked Little Vein

At first glance, Crooked Little Vein would seem to be nothing more than a comic I-can-top-that sort of novel, combined with the trappings of a hard-boiled private eye novel.

Michael McGill is a private eye, and a self-described “shit magnet”, to whom everything goes both wrong and weird. Weird as in cases involving man-ostrich sex. McGill thinks he’s plumbed the depths, but that changes when a shady, perverted Washington power broker hires him to find a lost document. And not just any lost document. He is to search for the secret Constitution of the United States, which Benjamin Franklin had bound in the skin of an extraterrestrial being, and which Richard Nixon lost in a whorehouse when he was president. It seems that the document, through its mysterious origins, possesses the power to “reset” the morals of America, which the current administration badly wishes to do.

So McGill sets off on a cross-country trip with a young female sidekick named Trix, who is writing her doctoral thesis on sexual fetishes. They careen from one misadventure to another, including one where McGill allows salt water to be injected into his genitals in exchange for information.

It is easy to see Crooked Little Vein as a freakshow. But Warren Ellis, who has worked mostly in the graphic novel field, is a talented writer, and hidden in all the extreme behavior are cogent observations about America, politics and the media. Highly, highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Darkness on the Edge of Town

A while back, I was fortunate enough to win Brian Keene’s novella Darkness on the Edge of Town in a contest run on his message board. The beautiful, leather bound, boxed edition was originally published as one of 174 numbered editions (there were 26 lettered at a higher price, for a total print run of 200) at a selling cost of $175.00. It’s the best looking book I own, and I’m grateful for the contest, since I doubt I would have shelled out that much for a book.
Darkness on the Edge of Town, which shares a title and nothing more with a Bruce Springsteen song (as does Keene’s novel The Rising, come to think of it), is set in Keene’s (multi)universe of the Thirteen, the thirteen ancient entities that plague various incarnations of Earth. Here, the residents of a small Virginia town wake up one day to learn the world has gone dark around them. There is no sun, no stars, and only pitch blackness beyond the city limits. As far as they can tell, nothing exists beyond the boundaries of their town, and everyone who tries to enter the blackness vanishes for good, with only some screams to indicate what happens to them.

The story falls squarely into the realm of the post-apocalyptic tale, as it is more about the actions and reactions of the survivors than the calamity that has befallen them. Civilization vanishes quickly, and the immediate danger to the three survivors we follow is more from their fellow men than what waits outside. A very good story, and it ties in well with Keene’s overall mythos.
Darkness on the Edge of Town will be reprinted by Leisure in a very different form early in 2010. The basic story will be expanded rewritten and changed. A few people who ordered the original version have gotten worked up about this, as they feel it diminishes the value of the more exclusive version. I disagree with this. When I read something I like, I always hope it reaches the widest audience possible. Besides, the mass-market version will be different enough to constitute a separate work. I look forward to comparing the two.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blue Devil Island

Compulsive book-buyers such as me frequently fall into the trap of buying too many books and accumulating an unmanageable To Be Read pile. Books we were eager to read end of getting push down in the list, and some take years to emerge at the top. When they turn out to be very good reads, we kick ourselves for waiting so long. Which brings us to Blue Devil Island, by Stephen Mark Rainey, whose name I know, but whose work I don’t remember reading.
Blue Devil Island is set in late 1943, in the Pacific Theatre of Operations of World War II. A squadron of Navy hellcats under the command of Drew “Athos” McLachlan has been deployed to a base on Conquest Island, a small atoll near Bouganville, there to engage Japanese air forces operating in and around the nearby islands. It is dangerous duty, and the men of Fighting Squadron 39 face death on every mission. But there is a menace more deadly than the Japanese enemy. The island is home to a strange and vicious race of natives, and is the prison for an ancient, eldritch horror. McClachlan and his comrades soon find themselves fighting not just for their country, but for the future of mankind.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m a sucker for a weird war tale, and, as a former history professor, any author willing to delve into the past also catches my attention. Rainey has done a magnificent level of research on this book, far beyond my own knowledge. He accurately describes the workings of the aircraft, and such innovative tactics as the Thach Weave (vital in defeating the Japanese Zeroes, almost unknown today) and the Lofbery Circle. If he made mistakes in the historical details, it will take a better scholar than I to find them.

The supernatural aspect of the book is just as well done as the historical side of it. Most writers who try to invoke a Lovecraftian feel to a story get the tone all wrong, but Rainey nails it here. The sense of dread and the unknown slowly build. I was lying in bed last night trying to figure out what would happen next, and finally gave up, got out of bed and finished it, a good indication of how good the book is.

Rainey also does a good job in letting us get to know the characters. As some of them meet their inevitable demise, we feel the loss. It could be argued the book has a pulp adventure feel to it, but I don’t consider that a bad thing.

If the idea of Lovecraft crossed with John Wayne-style World War II action strikes your fancy, I’d advise you to give Blue Devil Island a try.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Dark And Deadly Valley

A while back, I mentioned my love for the Weird Western Tales comics of my youth. Right up there with those were Weird War Tales, which concerned supernatural happenings during wartime (usually World War II). When I ran across A Dark and Deadly Valley, edited by Mark Heffernan and published by Silverthought Press, I jumped on it. It is an anthology of mostly original horror stories set against the backdrop of World War II, just like the old comics.

I’ve mentioned before it is getting difficult to compile a good anthology of original material in this day and age. For various reasons, economics makes it hard to pay the rates necessary to attract the biggest names. Well, either editor Heffernan has figured out a way around this, or a number of great writers just wanted to be included, because the table of contents is filled with a roster of the best of the new breed of horror writer.

To the editor’s credit, unlike most anthologies, I didn’t feel there was a truly weak story in this lineup. If I had to choose favorites, I’d say the entries by Steve Vernon, Brian Keene, Scott Nicholson, and Gary Braunbeck were the best, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Definitely recommended. Very cool cover, too.

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Ray Garton’s previous novel Ravenous ended somewhat surprisingly, with the werewolves in control of the town of Big Rock, California. It was the sort of ending that cried out for further resolution, and in Garton’s latest, Bestial, he takes up where Ravenous left off.

Bestial is not only the sequel to Ravenous, but also uses characters from Night Life, which was set in the universe of his earlier Live Girls. Confused? Just consider Bestial the Grand Unified Field Theory of Garton’s fiction.

Gavin Keoph and Karen Moffat, two private investigators working for horror writer Martin Burgess are dispatched by Burgess to Big Rock, where Taggart, the werewolf clan leader, is now sheriff, and has exerted complete control over the town. Still emotionally scarred by the events of Night Life, Keoph and Moffat are scarcely prepared for what they are walking into. The first werewolf/human hybrid has been born, and the lycanthropes are awaiting its accelerated development to signal a new phase in evolution, one that will make them the dominant species on the planet. Keoph and Moffat, with the help of some unexpected allies, will have to stop this plan, or humanity has a furry future.

I enjoyed Ravenous a lot, but I think Bestial is even better. Garton as always writes a face-paced page-turner, and mixes in gore seamlessly so it doesn’t seem exploitative. The characters are fully developed and mostly sympathetic, and Taggart is enough of a classic villain that you will be rooting for his comeuppance. If there is a flaw in my eyes, it is the appearance of the “cavalry” is a bit too Deus ex machine for me, although the appearance is set up early on. This is not enough to detract that much from the book, though. I’d recommend this book whole-heartedly.

One of the interesting things in the book is the use of the Seventh Day Adventist religion. It is fairly common knowledge that Garton was raised an Adventist, and he takes you into the lives of some of the believers, and the religion is not presented very sympathetically. Adventists would probably be offended, but then they would not read the novel anyway, nor this blog. (On a personal side-note, the city where I live is the home of Oakwood College, one of the larger Adventist schools, so interaction with them is common here.)

As a general note, a recent post by Ronald Kelly on his blog talked about how Leisure didn’t like the longer novels of the type that were popular in the 1980s, preferring a length that came in at about 300 pages, about half the length of the horror epics of the past. It occurs to me that writers are dealing with this limitation by splitting books in half and publishing the parts as separate entities. Garton’s Ravenous and Bestial, and Brian Keene’s The Rising and City of the Dead work better (in my opinion) when read as one long work, and would have almost certainly have been published in one volume in, say, 1988. I’d advise you read them as such.

Saturday, August 1, 2009


It is my hope the writers of Yeti, also known as Yeti: Curse of the Snow Demon were high when they came up with the script for this one. It’s really the only excuse for this.

An unidentified college football team (we are told they are in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so it would be a team on the East Coast) is traveling to a bowl game when its plane crashes in the Himalayas. Wait, what? How could that happen? The explanation is they are going to a bowl in Japan. Even so, they have gone around the world the wrong way. This is a curiously understrength team, with about 16 players and only one coach, compared to a real teams 85 players and a dozen coaches. Although there are an improbably large number of survivors, they are soon menaced by a guy in a Yeti suit worse than the ones you would expect to see on neighborhood kids at Halloween. Occasionally, the movie tries to distract from the lameness of the suit by substituting a CGI Yeti that may be the worst CGI I’ve ever seen. The survivors get eaten one by one, until the couple you would assume would survive do so.

A few of the low points:

After the crash, the first challenge faced by the survivors is getting a fire started using their limited supply of matches. They do this in a tense scene lit by the flaming pieces of wreckage that surrounds them. D’oh.

After determining the only food source available to them is the “Himalayan snow squirrel”, the quarterback rigs a trap and catches one which they eat, talking all the while about eating a rodent. Of course, the “squirrel” is very obviously a rabbit (which turns into chicken legs when it is cooked).

They fire the flare gun three times, after making a big deal of only having two flares. The first time, it acts more like a bullet anyway.

The rat bastard among the survivors (there has to be one) is shown just after the crash hiding food to horde it. You keep waiting for it to come up, but it doesn’t. Instead, RB complains about how weak he’s getting and is the first to advocate eating their dead friends (Human stomachs are filled with chicken breasts by the way). We finally see him eating his cache after they are rescued. So apparently he was saving it for the celebration.

Bodies bleed despite being frozen solid. And swear words are poorly dubbed over. I realize this was originally on the Sci Fi channel, but if they bothered to film a version with adult language, what are they saving it for other than the DVD?

The only lesson to be gleamed from this horrible film is: If your plane crashes in the Himalayas, eat the rat bastard among you first.