Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Children of Chaos

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Greg Gifune’s writing for some time, but I am only now getting around to checking his work out. To be honest, I had wondered if some of the praise was undeserved hype, since Gifune’s other job is as an associate editor at Delirium Books, and in the incestuous little world of our genre, there is a tendency to pump up people who might be in a position to help a reviewer land a later sale. Judging by my first Gifune book, Children of Chaos, he is well worth the praise he has received.

In the late 1970s, three teenage boys returning home from a carnival come across a strangely scarred man, with the word “Chaos” tattooed on his back, camping in the woods. With fresh news of the murder of a young girl on their minds, they attack the man, killing him with a sword found in his bag, and disposing of his body. The guilt they feel is intensified when they learn the dead girl was killed by her father instead.

Adulthood doesn’t work out well for the trio. Jamie fulfilled his ambition to become a priest, but was defrocked after having sex with a minor. Philip became a writer, but by his 40s is without a publisher, divorced, and well on his way to alcoholism. Martin wanted to be an actor, but after years of wandering, became the leader of a strange cult in the Mexican desert.

Martin’s seriously ill mother wants to bring him on before she dies, and hires Martin to go after him. Despite his reluctance, Martin needs the money, and is soon on a strange and frightening journey toward the fate that was sealed for the three friends the day they killed the scarred man. Will he find redemption or damnation at the end of his quest?

As Gifune discusses in his afterward, the parallels in the story with Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness are pretty overt, and I was also put in mind of John Carpenter’s underrated film In The Mouth of Madness, but that may just be me. I don’t want to get all freshman English major on you, but Children of Chaos does echo many of heart of Darkness’ themes, most particularly duality, as explored in the conversations between Philip and Martin on the basic good or evil of mankind.

I found Children of Chaos to be a compelling work, one which managed to combine a fast-moving plot with genre-compatible chills and action with thoughtful ruminations on the nature of mankind. If, like me, you are late to Mr. Gifune’s books, Children of Chaos would be a good starting point. Highly recommended.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Story of Noichi the Blind

Chet Williamson’s short novella The Story of Noichi the Blind has an interesting fictional back story. It is presented as a Japanese folk tale, purchased in Japan by Williamson’s son, and written a century before by noted folklorist Lafcadio Hearn or one of his disciples. This is detailed in Williamson’s introduction, although the idea is discounted in the afterward by Hearn expert Dr. Alan Drew. Of course, Drew doesn’t exist, but it does add an amusing note to the story.

The story itself is written in the style of Hearn, and concerns a simple woodcutter named Noichi, who lives alone in the remote forest. Noichi is kind to all of the animals, who have in turn befriended him. One day Noichi happens upon Noriku, a servant at a brothel who has killed a samurai (by bizarre accident) and fled for her life. Noichi takes her in, and eventually marries her, and they are happy together.

The happiness ends when Noriku sickens and dies. The animals of the forest, when are so distressed to see their friend in pain, take action to make Noichi believe Noriku is still alive by inhabiting her body. The, er, interaction between Noichi and the late Noriku causes the corpse to give birth to a Tengu, a type of demon which wreaks havoc on the creatures of the forest.

The story is more interesting in concept than in execution. The "documentation" surrounding the authenticity of the story is better done than the story itself, which seems to try too hard to shock, with depictions of necrophilia and bestiality among other things. Ultimately, something of a letdown, although I imagine someone who is more of a fan of Japanese folk tales than I am might be more pleased with it.

Friday, December 18, 2009


I struggle back from the near death of a severe cold to cop out and reprint something I wrote elsewhere. Oh, well at least it's a book that is well worth reading, Bryan Smith's Freakshow. If you actually read this site, you know that Smith (Deathbringer, Soultaker, House of Blood, Queen of Blood) is one of my favorite writers, and this is Smith's most gonzo, balls-to-the-wall action/horror novel. i guarantee you haven't read anything quite like it.

A carnival comes to a small Tennessee town. But this carnival is manned by strange creatures, who abduct the inhabitants of the town, savagely torture them, murder them, then replace them with clones under their control. They do this to one small town each year. The main characters are Mike and Helen, who in two parallel story lines fight for survival, and to end the carnival’s reign of terror.

Circuses and clowns have been used in horror before, but never to quite this much effect. It is filled with outstanding squirm-inducing thrills.

This isn’t a book for those looking for slow buildup, tepid pacing, and incremental character build-up. You are immediately dropped into the action, and it never slows down. In fact, I wondered at first if it was a sequel to an earlier book (it isn’t, although it does reference the author’s earlier work) since you are instantly in the thick of things. Most horror novels would start with the carnival’s arrival in the bucolic town, but when you start The Freakshow, the terror has already started, and most of the town’s residents are gone. The action is grisly, with scenes of incredible savagery, some sexual. The story really grabs you, you feel like one of the trapped townspeople, caught up and unable to escape. Although it should not be read by the squeamish, this book is highly recommended.

I'd love to see a sequel to this one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome To The Jungle, title taken from the classic Guns ‘n Roses song, is a parody of reality shows where four contestants are dropped into Los Angeles with one goal: Bring back the decapitated head of Axl Rose.

Heh. No, not really, because that would be cool. It is actually an incredibly bad “cannibal” movie, shot in the “found footage” style of The Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. Except this movie sucks like a vacuum cleaner.

The ad slogan should have been "Get ready to root for the cannibals". 4 young people with the brains and personality of Paris Hilton go looking for Michael Rockefeller in cannibal country, and they are the stupidest, most obnoxious people on the planet. Example 1: they come to a road block where an Asian soldier with a machine gun asks to see their papers. They deal with it by calling him a "fucking zipperhead." Example 2: they read a government advisory about how robbers kill tourists after tricking them into stopping their car by placing a child in the road. They are told to just drive around. 2 minutes later they come to a child sitting at the edge of the road. What do they do? They stop. This would be a good movie to trick your most hated enemy into watching.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Favorite Horror Book of the Year

So Paul Tremblay issues this challenge to blog, tweet, facebook, or skywrite about your favorite horror book. I ignore such challenges. Except when he’s giving away free stuff, like in this case, and I willingly give up and play along. Plus Paul is the author of the excellent book The Little Sleep. (Note to those fans of The Little Sleep who e-mailed me. That is a positive review. I don’t understand why you would think otherwise.)

Picking my favorite was harder. Fortunately I have this blog to review the books I’ve read this year, but picking the best one wasn’t easy. I’m not going to fall into the whining “Books aren’t good anymore” because I enjoy most of what I read, but it was hard to pick a standout horror book one that was head and shoulders above the rest. At least, until I got back to March and realized Ronald Kelly’s Midnight Grinding and Other Twilight Terrors was published this year. It is a massive collection of Ron’s short work from Cemetery Dance, and filled with some of the best southern-fried writing you’ll ever come across. (His shorter collection The Sick Stuff was a contender, too, but I went with the longer, more diverse volume. A hard call, though.)

So there you have it.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Money Shot

Here’s a reworked reprint of something I wrote a while back at another location. It’s a review of the Hard Case Crime release of Money Shot, by Christa Faust. The field of gritty crime novels is often something of a boys’ club, and I suppose there is a predisposition to believe testosterone is necessary to write a story about tough guys (and gals). Money Shot completely disproves that.

The protagonist of Money Shot is a former porn actress named Angel Dare, now semi-retired and running an adult modeling agency. The McGuffin of the story is a briefcase of money that a group of very bad guys believe is in Angel’s possession. In the course of trying to recover it, she is kidnapped, beaten, raped, tortured, shot, and left for dead. Surviving these eventss, she goes on a mission through the sex-trade underworld to get even with the ones responsible.

Angel Dare is a great character. She is resourceful and pragmatic, and doesn’t waste time on philosophical debate when she has an opportunity for revenge. Faust’s writing is dynamic, and she throws a couple of unseen plot twists at you, and I hope we haven’t seen the last of Angel Dare. For those with sensitive dispositions, the story does take place in the porn industry, and doesn’t shy away from the realities of the business.

The Hard Case Crime series has been one of my favorite imprints since its inception. Of the books I’ve read from it (forty or so), there has been only one I didn’t like, a heckuva batting average. Money Shot is my favorite from the series. If you have any interest at all in crime novels, please give this one a try. It’s a wild ride. Besides, just look at that cover. How can you resist?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shadows Over Florida

Here’s an interesting concept: A reference book that details the history of horror and horror-related events covering a state. Shadows Over Florida, by David and Scott T. Goudsward, is such a book, detailing the history of the dark side of the Sunshine State.

First thing to think about, you don’t evaluate a reference book the way you do a novel, so I devised a test. I came up with a list of ten reasonably obscure horror connections to Florida from my own feeble brain, and decided if the book hit on seven of them, I’d give it a passing grade. To my surprise, they were ten for ten, which means that somewhere there is another poor soul who watched Absolute Zero. I don’t hold myself out as an expert on the subject, but I do know enough trivia to make that an impressive achievement.

The book is ordered alphabetically by location, and I was pleased to see there are two indices, one for movies and television shows, and one for authors. I learned a lot from the book, from important things such as Jacksonville could have become the capitol of the film industry instead of Hollywood, if there hadn’t been local opposition, to the obscure yet intriguing, for example there is a Christian anti-drug movie that features a mutant biker vampire were-turkey.* There is quite a lot about the legendary Herschell Gordon Lewis, current B-movie maven Joel D. Wynkoop and many other facts. I didn’t realize H.P. Lovecraft had such a close connection to the state.

If you are a horror fan who lives in Florida or plans to visit it, you have to have this book. If you don’t plan to visit the Gulf Coast, I think you would enjoy it anyway. The book can be ordered through Amazon. It is an attractive trade paperback, reasonably priced, and I highly recommend it.

For those of you further up the East Coast, the Goudswards have previously published a similar book, Shadows Over New England.

Now I’m off to look for a movie about a mutant biker vampire were-turkey.

*That has to be awful. I am determined to see it.

We Now Resume Our Regular Broadcasting Schedule

My hard drive has been replaced (again), and I am back, a little poorer and a little crankier, but who will notice? We will now resume our regular schedule of inanities. When I picked up my computer from the stoner at Best Buy, we had this exchange:

Stoner: We put in a Western Digital drive this time.
Me: Uh, okay. Good, I guess.
Stoner: Your problem was the last time you replaced your drive you put in one of those piece of crap Seagate drives. Seagate makes nothing but junk, and if you go that way, you can expect problems.
Me: You were the one who put in the Seagate drive.
Stoner: Ah. Oh. How about I knock ten dollars off the price?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Intermittent Blog Is Intermittent

It's the holiday season and you know what that means: my hard drive has died. For the third year in a row. So, until it is repaired/replaced, posting here will be greatly reduced. You will have to suffer without it, I'm afraid, as there will not be the planned "10 Greatest Christmas Novels Featuring a Giant Reptile" or "10 Greatest Movies In Which You See Santa Claus Full Monty Naked." Maybe next year. But don't despair, posting will return to normal levels just as soon as the stoners at Best Buy get the drive changed. Until then Dead In The South isn't truly gone, it lives on inside of each of us. Sort of like cancer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Yellow Medicine

There is some substantial overlap between what we think of as horror fiction and crime fiction. I’m not talking about the genteel parlor mysteries like Murder, She Wrote, but about the grim, dark dramas of James Ellroy, Ray Banks, Ken Bruen and the like. There are many authors today who write or have written in both fields, and done it well. The sometimes bleak themes used suit both genres well.

This is, of course, my justification for why you are going to read about the occasional crime novel/film here. You guys pay a lot for this site, I want to make sure you’re happy.

The standard conception of the protagonist of a detective or crime novel, perhaps slightly sullied by the milieu in which he is forced to live, but with a moral code that is unshakeable, and a passion to see justice done no matter what the cost. The protagonist of Anthony Neil Smith’s novel Yellow Medicine is definitely not that person.

Billy Lafitte is a cop, the kind that doesn’t mind shaking down a criminal for a little cash, offering protection to drug dealers for a cut of the profits, or pressuring young girls into sex in exchange for overlooking some indiscretion, and getting off on using the power he has over citizens. These activities have cost him. His excesses in the wake of Katrina cost him his job with the New Orleans police force (although only a small part of his corruption was uncovered), his home and his family. Fortunately for him, his wife reached out to her brother, the sheriff of Yellow County, Minnesota, and got Billy a new job, one he settles into comfortably, cultivating a string of meth labs for extra cash. The only change for him is he hates Minnesota, and is borderline suicidal.

He has also fallen in love with a young woman named Drew, who plays in a local psychobilly band. Drew doesn’t love him, but she needs him for favors, and when her dealer boyfriend gets into a jam, she comes to Billy for help. This is where it all begins to unravel for Billy. It seems an outside organization is moving in on the rural Minnesota meth network, one that is powerful and scary. Billy is the main obstacle in their path, and soon he is finding heads severed with his knife, and everyone around him is in danger.

Billy is over his head and he knows it. Trouble is, he’s been so dirty for so long it is difficult for him to get help from the law enforcement agencies he needs. There is an FBI agent who may or may not be on his side, and his straight-arrow ex-brother-in-law, but if Billy is going to get out of this, he will have to figure it out for himself.

This is not the kind of mystery read by your grandmother. It is grim and bleak, and there is no easy resolution. The book is told from the first person point of view of Lafitte himself, which means you are along for the ride with a cop you probably won’t like that well. However, for those that can handle it, this is a remarkably engrossing book. Smith, the editor of the well-respected Plots With Guns, has crafted an assured crime classic, and told a story you can’t put down, and won’t find easy to forget.

My one complaint would be with the opening chapter. Much of the book is actually a flashback, and the beginning gives away a lot of information about the ultimate, mostly tragic, fates of many of the characters. This is a recognized literary device, and it doesn’t really detract from the book, but I wouldn’t have revealed so much up front. Which is why, of course, I’m a pitiful blogger and Mr. Smith looks to be well on his way to becoming one of the great crime authors.