Sunday, October 4, 2009

Editorial October 09 e-issue #4

Editorial October 09 e-issue #4
By Nickolas Cook

By the time I was ten years old, I had officially pronounced Halloween as my favorite holiday, followed closely by Christmas and my birthday. Being a healthy red-blooded kid, you’d think any holiday that got me presents would beat out Halloween. And I won’t lie to you: I loved getting gifts (except for clothes…I still damn everyone of those practical gifts). But there was something about the night of witches and goblins that spoke to my soul so powerfully that that one single night knocked every other holiday down like ten pins.

As you may have guessed from the very nature of what you see here in this magazine, I’m unabashedly a horror geek.
Yeah, a huge one, folks.
I own more horror movies than most people own movies.
And horror novels?
Well, let’s just say we finally kicked out one of the kids to make room for our ever-expanding library of dark literature.
Hell, I still have Halloween costumes from when I was ten or eleven.
My wife and I have skulls and black candles decorating our living room. Oh, it’s tastefully done (just ask our friends). Not tacky. It somehow fits us. And not in some weird ass Wiccan way, either, but a fun spirited, dark fashion. We even got married on Halloween night (this Halloween will be our 11th year of married bliss).
Yep, I am one Class-A Horror Geek, and have been for as far back as I can remember. I’m sure my parents could tell some doozies about my horror lovin’. But don’t ask them. I think they’re still trying to pretend I’m a normal person who will one day run for President of the U.S.A.

The first horror novel I ever read was ‘The Dark’ by James Herbert. And if you’ve ever read it, bear this in mind: I was nine years old. I didn’t understand everything I read back then, but I sure as hell got the major gist of what good old Herbert was trying to do.
Thanks very much, Mr. Herbert. You made me a hardcore convert from that moment on.
I devoured horror books, as many as I could get my hands on. In fact, I blame Whitley Streiber’s ‘The Wolfen’ for making me fail Calculus. I paid no attention to the teacher because I was so wrapped up in Streiber’s prehistoric wolf creatures and their sly devastation of NYC, circa 1975.
Thanks, Mr. Streiber. Seriously, I mean it. I probably got more out of your book than that asshole teacher’s limp lectures.
From then on, I wanted to scare people like Streiber and Herbert had scared me. I salivated to do so.
But I couldn’t just walk around yelling BOO at people all the time, could I?
Hell, that wasn’t normal.
Precocious, at best. At worst, I would have deserved a nice ass beating for being an obnoxious little snot.

But see…there was this one night of the year that I could do so without any negative repercussions. On this one night I’d be, heck, normal.
I ran around dizzy every year a week before Halloween, trying to decide what I wanted to be. I have been in my young life a ghost, a witch, a devil, an ape monster, Frankenstein’s monster, Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, a vampire, a mummy, a scary clown, Gene Simmons from KISS, a Kooky Spook.

Only once do I remember dressing up as something not scary and that was Bruce Lee. I was a martial arts geek, too, I guess.

But the inevitable finally came one Halloween, when I and my brother got too old to pull off the trick or treat routine. The year before in 1982 we’d pushed it and gotten some rather disapproving smirks from the adults. At the end of the night, bags filled with candy, mama told us it was our last year for trick or treat. There are some doors that never open again, some moments that just inherently break your heart.

So we did the next best thing and created a huge haunted woods exhibit for the neighborhood kids to walk through. I mean this thing was intricate stuff, man. We had lighting tricks, scary scenarios with bloody headless corpses, flying ghosts on wires, live people running around with fake knives and axes. Our little Halloween haunted woods thing got pretty popular. Soon we had adults making their way through our trails that night and actually getting scared all in the name of Halloween fun.
We did that for a couple of years, until the neighborhood kids got too old for it. We got into our mid teens and girls became a lot more important to us than yelling BOO for a while.

Skip ahead to present day, 2009, and I’m still trying to recreate that same sense of fun and scares that once gave me such a jolt as a kid. I still watch every new horror movie in the hopes that something will do what my old favorites did back then. I still read tons of horror novels, looking for old friends in the archetypes and classics. And now I write horror, in the hopes that my work will one day help give a jolt to some kid out there who needs something to latch onto to stay alive in the dark times.
But, you know, horror has changed.
Halloween has changed.

After years of constant pressure from Rightwing religious groups, and well meaning, but ultimately ignorant, mother’s groups, I think it’s become a lame merchandising holiday, sort of like Valentine’s Day or Secretary’s Day. There’s no darkness left in it; no fear. No terror of the unknown. It’s pastel Easter egg safe. Diluted. Homogenized. And dull as dishwater, folks.
I see very few witches or goblins coming to our door these days. I do, however, see a lot of Transformers, Jedi, Hanna Montanas, and the like.
They’re sure enough scary…but not in a good way, you know?
What happened to the days of letting a kid taste fun fear for just that one night of the year?
When did it become a crime to frighten, even disgust, for the sake of fun?
Have we pretty much PCd ourselves right out of our Halloween traditions?
Has the feminized U.S of A. decided that scaring for fun is sick and degrading?
Not sure when it happened, but it has.
Why is it okay to call an innocent night of dress up and trick or treating evil, but it’s just fine to have a whole holiday for some guy who got nailed to a cross?
Doesn’t that strike you as a little morbid?
I don’t know about you, but that is a seriously frightening thought, and not one I’d willing thrust upon an unsuspecting kid. You can dress it up in all the warm sweet-ums you want, but the guy died after being tortured, nailed to a cross, and left to bleed to death. And we, in this dumbass country, celebrate the fact that he got kilt in a fairly horrendous and gory manner.

Well, I know one monkey don’t stop no show, but let me say this: Halloween was meant to be fun for kids (and adults), not a goddamn excuse to stuff candy into a bag, watch Martha fucking Stewart carve a right nice pumpkin, or watch reruns of the ‘Addams Family’ on TVLand.
What this country needs is a good old fashioned for-fun scarefest.
We need to be reminded of the simple joy of scaring someone to see them jump and then laugh at our silly fright together.
What we need is less PC and more fear of the unknown.
We need the dark to still hold our deepest terrors in its cold primordial bosom.
We need horror movies that disturb--not explode so we know when to applaud.
We need that one simple night back again when it’s okay for a kid to dress as the most frightening creature he can think of and to enjoy his chance to yell BOO!

Anyway, we’ve got some great stuff this issue, including our TOP 50 HORROR MOVIES OF ALL TIME LIST. We hope you enjoy this first annual Halloween issue and we hope you’ll take a moment to remember the simple joy of yelling BOO for the fun of it.

--Nickolas Cook

(Editor’s Note: My opinion does NOT in anyway reflect those of my fellow staffers or our guests in this issue. If you have something to say about the above decidedly antichristian statements, please feel free to send all your email complaints to

Stabbed In Stanzas: Feature Poet, Michael A. Arnzen

Interview conducted by Karen L. Newman

Michael A. Arnzen is no stranger to horror fans. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award in 1994 for First Novel, Grave Markings; in 2003 for Alternative Forms, The Goreletter; in 2005 for Poetry Collection, Freakaccidents; and in 2007 for Fiction Collection, Proverbs for Monsters. He was a Bram Stoker Award Finalist in 2001 and 2003 for Poetry Collection, Paratabloids and Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems, respectively; in 2004 for Fiction Collection, 100 Jolts; and again in 2004 for Alternative Forms, The Goreletter. He won the International Horror Critics Guild Award for First Novel in 1994 for Grave Markings. He was honored as Best New Writer in 1992 by the Small Press Writers and Artists Organization and Best Fiction Writer in 1995 by the Genre Writers Association. He shares his immense knowledge and talent as a tenured professor at Seton Hill University.

KLN: You’re a rare talent to have mastered fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Which is your favorite form and why? Of all your works, which is your favorite and why?
MAA: Oh, I'd never claim I've "mastered" anything, but you're right that I've been lucky enough to find publishing success in vastly different forms and formats. I think I juggle them all because I really am always, at base, testing the way language delivers meaning, and I'm always trying to think of new ways that the form of a work can change the way the horror is delivered. But if you held a gun to my head and said "pick one or die, Arnzen," then I'd say likely say fiction is my favorite, if only because I often feel like I fall into the world of the story when I'm writing it and the story begins to virtually write itself...poetry and non-fiction are too crafty and/or rational for that sort of "escape" to happen, though it does happen sometimes, just in a different, more intellectual way that I could never explain. In any case, that sort of "escape" -- which may not even be the right term for it -- is exactly the sort of pleasure I'm after when I'm writing. It's a mental zone I like to return to, again and again. And I think it's quite similar to the "zone" readers escape into when they read, as well.

KLN: You were born in Amityville, NY. Did living there contribute to your becoming a horror writer?
MAA: Yes, I was possessed by Jody the Pig, in order to channel the demonic sow's blasphemous malediction into my stories. But that's not all! I have been unable to escape the haunting in my travels across the country, and now that I've settled down I have a bloody toilet overflow problem, a strange red room that I call my basement office, and several flies, well, everywhere, whispering in my ears, telling me what to write....
But in all seriousness, I do think it contributed to my worldview. Not simply in terms of horror, but in terms of learning how popular fiction works in our culture. As a young kid, I saw the Amityville murders covered on the news, long before Jay Anson's The Amityville Horror was published, so at an early age I witnessed the capacity of man to commit heinous acts, and the terrifying unknowability of what your neighbors are really up to. I also saw the entire neighborhood respond with shame and fear and outrage. So the "psychological" element of horror made an impact on me. Then came the book, and I worked at a store that sold a whole wall of paperbacks, and I got to see how popular the "local legend" really was. Everyone was talking about it. I learned just how popular fiction can be (or perhaps I should say "books" because The Amityville Horror claims to be a true story). When I moved to Colorado years later, even after the film came out, I remember being a bit surprised by how much everyone recognized my hometown by reputation. Now -- thanks to a decade of retellings and bad sequels -- it seems everyone knows about it by name alone, and when I say I was born in Amityville everyone rolls their eyes and says "Gee, that figures..."
I could go on and on about this one, but I won't. Anyone really interested in this stuff could read my memoir about Amityville in an old issue of Morbid Curiosity magazine, if they can dig it up.

KLN: I read on your website where you started writing horror stories to entertain soldiers when you served overseas in the army. Tell us about your experiences there. Which countries did you visit while in the army? Have you used any settings from there in your writing?
MAA: I was stationed in Germany, and I have set a few pieces in German locations, but I think it's more accurate to say that I learned more about character than setting from my military experiences. When you're in the service, it seems as though everyone dresses alike, looks alike, and behaves alike. All of this compulsory uniformity leaves very little room for self-expression, so soldiers really take advantage of any chance they are allowed to let their (imaginary) hair down or to express themselves through subversive little ways. Everyone's a character to the extreme. You also really meet a wide range of diverse people and personalities in the melting pot of the military. I think I came to understand both our common humanity and our quirky little differences as human beings, and being in a foreign culture during that period only enhanced that for me. It got me to see what it means to be an American from the outside in, and that taught me a lot. Oh, and I also didn't have any TV at the time, and was frustrated by the lack of English-speaking in the area I was living, so I read books I got from the PX like crazy. All of this contributed to who I am today: a writer and a writing teacher.

KLN: What other jobs did you hold before settling in as professor at Seton Hill? Have you used those experiences in your writing?
MAA: It's all grist for the mill, and I do have a working class background. When I was really young, I worked at a stationary store in the morning, then did a paper route by night. In college, I worked for the college bookstore, in the shipping and delivery room. Little did I know that these little ways of making money were teaching me about the distribution of books and magazines and newspapers at the time. But I've also worked scut jobs, everything from clerk at a convenience store to cook in a fry kitchen to dishwasher at a dive bar, and I would have to say that this work, along with my time in the military, really showed me what it means to be an "alienated worker" while -- again -- getting to know people on a very real level. I have drawn on these work experiences so often in my stories that I'm hard pressed to think of a tale that isn't, in some way, based on them.

KLN: In recent years splatterpunk seems to be on the decline, yet you’re very successful in this genre, particularly your poetry, much of which is short and gory. To what do you attribute this success?
MAA: Oh, I don't know if I'm splatterpunk through and through, but I won't hold back when it comes to moments that demand excess. If anything, I use gore to explore the art of language to describe the unthinkable. I think horror readers turn to books and stories because they are looking for something different and more artful and imaginative than the special effect tricks of the movies and the spectacle of the body; they are looking for surprises and shivers, and that's all I'm after. Even when I'm at my goriest, I'd like to think there's always something else going on in my work, and I'm sometimes injecting gore into formats where it is unexpected, which only makes it all the more disturbing.
Writers are the worst at explaining their own approaches, so I don't want to talk too much about this. There's a special issue of an online journal called Dissections in the UK that focused on analyzing my work, so I'll let those scholars speak on my behalf. Maybe I have a sense of ironic distance that distinguishes my work from the earnest intensity of much splatterpunk. It's never gore for gore's sake in my work. And while I do subscribe to Stephen King's famous advice to horror authors -- about how first you must terrify, then horrify, then -- barring that -- "go for the gross-out" -- I really just go where my intuition is telling me to go. Sometimes I'm being gory in my fiction just to keep the reader off balance, and to get them to expect the unexpected. But beyond that, I think readers expect horror writers to confront truths that most people don't: they expect us not to look away when facing our nightmares and ugliness. When done right, it earns their trust, really. We treat them to what we have seen, but artfully so.

KLN: You have an audio CD out, Audiovile. How did you change your writing, if at all, in making the CD?
MAA: I hope more readers get the chance to hear Audiovile, because anyone who has listened to it has really reacted with far more excitement than I ever expected. They tell me they always play it for friends: "You've gotta listen to THIS!" That makes me really proud, because that's the same reaction I have to CDs I buy that I love: I can't wait to share them (or inflict them?) on someone else.
But back to Audiovile: the project started out as just a way to try to capture what I do at fiction readings in audiobook form. But it grew into a virtual rock album. It was all an experiment for me, as most writing is, and I wanted to have some fun by exploring my repressed musical side (I've been in a few garage bands in my day, but it was the songwriting that always excited me most about that). So once I started creating my own background music and sound effects to the stories I was reading and recording, I realized just how much unexplored territory there was with the medium, especially when it came to the sonic sphere of horror, so I moved the music to the foreground instead. I was discovering all sorts of new things and got really excited -- the thing turned into something much weirder than an audiobook, and absolutely nothing like a radio play. It became something like spoken word poetry set to music, something like a Henry Rollins meets The Doors sort of thing, but it's not quite that, either. As I created the tracks, I found myself reading to the beat and finding the notes inside of the sound of the words to play off -- and all of this has forced me to rethink how my sentences are put together and how the pacing and structure of a story generates mood. I'm much more conscious of the poetry of my prose now. The CD was an experiment that turned out wonderful, if I may toot my own horn. Anyone looking for something really unique ought to give Audiovile a listen and decide for themselves.

KLN: You’ve edited several books, including the Bram-Stoker-Award-winning poetry collection Pitchblende by Bruce Boston. How did you determine which poems to include? What are you looking for when selecting poems? Do you plan on editing any more collections or anthologies in the future?
MAA: Bruce Boston's book really was a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime experience, because he trusted me enough to send me ALL his horror poetry to read, and I did a very scholarly study of this master's work, immersing myself in the process. Bruce's writing won that Stoker, not me, but I am very proud to have had a hand in shaping the book. When I edit something like this, I look for common threads, variations on themes, or some kind of structural unity -- the "glue" that holds everything together. This needs to come out of the intertextuality of the work itself, not applied arbitrarily from the outside. It was a tough process, because Bruce Boston's themes are so prolific, and he has a variety of interests and approaches. But in Pitchblende I discovered that one of the poems themselves identified the major recurring themes in his writing that I would use to organize the collection: so there are sections on flesh, blood, and bone.
I did something similar in my early foray into editing, a chapbook of psychological horror poetry called Psychos, back in 1991. That book had different "wards" (parts) separated by different types of psychological issues. I'm currently co-editing a how-to book on writing (with Heidi Ruby Miller) that features writers from a number of different genres. But I'd love to some day edit a horror fiction anthology -- I have an idea for one stemming from my doctoral research, featuring dismembered hand stories, that I'd love to put together for a publisher who saw a market for such a crazy, um, Thing.

KLN: Zombies are a very popular horror topic right now, as well as vampires. What do you anticipate being the next great ‘fad’, as you will, in horror? What advice do you give your students on following these fads?
MAA: I'm a contrarian by nature, so I'm always writing against the fads, even if it means that I don't always hit with success in the market. Although every writer wants as broad an audience as possible, I kind of like the fact that I'm still writing on the margins of things for the small press more often than not; it keeps me real and honest. Horror, when it goes mainstream, really needs to do something subversive to contribute substantially to the genre: when I read a horror novel, if I'm not thinking "Wow, I can't believe this author got away with saying THIS!" then it probably isn't doing its job.
I don't teach my students to be so contrarian, but to be themselves and to be as honest as possible with their audiences. They have to read a lot to get the "deep structure" of a genre. You can't fake it -- well, you can and you might even trick an unsavvy editor -- but genre readers have no patience with false gimmicks, and any writer who works under the assumption that their readers are easily duped is destined to fail. Readers want good stories, period. I try to teach students to respect that, while also really acting on the creative license that their genre gives them.
There are conservative and liberal interpretations of any genre, and I love to read them all. Personally, I like to think that the rise in the popularity of zombies is really just a mass deconstruction of the conceits of character that so much fiction relies upon. Thus, we have YA books about zombie cheerleaders, and romance novels about zombie lovers, and even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. These books are NOT about zombies, per se; they are using zombies to say something about other genres! I don't mind it when a staple of the horror genre is appropriated in this way, but to get any real zombie stories anymore, you pretty much have to go on a hunting expedition for the rare horror novel on the shelves that have them; unfortunately most of these are in the small press and the underground (which is sort of like the "cult video" shelf in the old video stores anymore). The market sees these things as a salable gimmick, but to me zombies are serious business, and really are just one huge, generic manifestation of the undead. I think that if mass market publishers were more serious about supporting the genre, rather than playing into the hands of yesterday's news, they would profit from trends like these on a more regular basis...horror never dies.
What's the next fad? Who knows? I hear werewolves. Who cares? These are all ancient forms. I wouldn't be surprised if Greek mythological monsters come up next. It's frustrating to those of us who are really trying to say and do something new, something that really speaks to the current world. The real question a writer needs to ask, ultimately, is "what books aren't out there on the shelves that I wish there were"? Write them. Write for the reader inside. Don't write for some imaginary market. Write for yourself and celebrate the thing about fiction that people just like you really love and admire. That common bond is what genres are for, not for prepackaging target markets for profiteers.

KLN: Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Mike. I appreciate your time. Is there anything additional you’d like to share with our readers?
MAA: Thank YOU, Karen, and whoever else is still reading this at this point.
I always like to invite folks to subscribe to my newsletter or visit my blog at The Goreletter, my newsletter, won a Bram Stoker Award, so I take that as a sign that it's worth it to keep publishing it, but I need subscribers to know I have an audience for it. There are all sorts of little things going on in my writing here and there, but I'll save news of that for The Goreletter. But folks here might like to know that I'm working on a new poetry book that I just contracted, called BLOOD BATH AND BEYOND. Look for it in 2010!

--Karen L. Newman

(The Black Glove thanks Michael A. Arnzen for this time and effort)

Stabbed In Stanzas: Horror Poetry Book Review

Proverbs for Monsters
by Michael A. Arnzen;
Dark Regions Press, 2007;
296 pages; Trade Paperback $19.95
Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

Michael A. Arnzen is one of the best up-and-coming horror authors of the twenty-first century. He’s won numerous Bram Stoker Awards, including for the 2007 fiction collection, Proverbs for Monsters. This collection of twenty-nine stories and thirty-four poems showcases the best of Arnzen’s work. Most are reprints from his appearances in places such as Cemetery Dance, Poe’s Lighthouse, Flesh and Blood (the late, great horror magazine edited by Jack Fisher), Mythic Delirium, Bare Bone, and his own previously published collections. There is disappointment that there isn’t more original work in this book.

Arzen is a master at taking ordinary situations and turning them into horrific incidents – an offbeat amusement park, an operation with an unexpected result, a self-help book for an unusual use, and weird trivia, to name a few. His stories are reminiscent of the style of country oral storytellers. You feel as if you’re sitting around a campfire instead of reading in a plush chair. Arnzen relates to readers in a folksy manner in which others are often unable to do.

Arnzen’s poetry is like sharp shards of glass – puncturing the reader and getting under his or her skin by consonance as in “Resuscitation”

I move for mouth-to mouth

and alliteration as in “Why Zombies Lumber”

They lumber and lunge like sleepwalkers

Most poems being short add to this effect.

The collection title, Proverbs for Monsters, is taken from the title of a poem included in this book that offers witticisms and advice for monsters. Every other poem and all the stories illustrate a monster in a most horrific and realistic manner, even in those tales that are fantastic. This collection is very deserving of the Stoker Award and other accolades.

--Karen L. Newman

Outsider Book of the Month- October 09 e-issue #4 Beloved by Toni Morrison

Outsider Book of the Month- October 09 e-issue #4 Beloved by Toni Morrison
Review by Nickolas Cook

In this 1987 Pulitzer Prize winning novel BELOVED Toni Morrison does the impossible by making brutality and guilt seem almost beautiful. It is a gut wrenching read, filled with grim moments of damn near unbearable violence, but leaves you feeling haunted by its prose and characters.
Paul D, freed slave, has been searching for years for Sethe, a woman who had once been part of a slave household with him, and when he finally finds her, he discovers she has been ostracized by her neighbors because her house is seemingly haunted by a malevolent ghost which has crippled the dog and chased away her sons, leaving her alone to raise her mentally retarded daughter, Denver. As he tries to enter the house, Paul D is confronted by the angry invisible spirit that has been wrecking havoc on the house and he manages to chase it away with violence and shouting. The house returns to normal and they settle in to begin a romantic and harmonious relationship. But soon they are visited by a young woman named Beloved, who appears seemingly out of nowhere and with no memory as to how she came to them.
But Sethe already suspects she knows Beloved’s origins.
Paul D is slowly eked out of the picture by Beloved’s intrusive and strange presence and leaves the house, while Denver becomes more and more enamored by the young woman.
Again, we find the house is haunted—not by intangible spirits now, but by a remembered act of violence that Beloved cannot forgive and Sethe cannot forget. How Sethe must find redemption for her act is the crux of the story and its final denouement will leave you teary eyed.
This period piece of fiction skirts the borders of pure horror story, giving us ghosts, both spiritually and figuratively. At times it is perhaps only the ghost of slavery, “that peculiar institution” as our forefathers likes to refer to it, and at times it is a straight up haunted house/ghost story.
There’s no doubt that Morrison has one of the best writing styles in the world--part poetry, part prose, and very powerful stuff. She knows her characters with frightening intimacy and translates that to the written page with a deceptively simplistic ease. But she also tackles many acts of violence, sexual, physical and mental, and pulls no punches. BELOVED is a book that deserves every accolade its received over the years and it is a must for any self-respecting horror reader. Its subtlety and dark power will enthrall and frighten, enlighten and educate.

--Nickolas Cook

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

Fresh Blood: Tales from the Speculative Graveyard
By Lawrence R. Dagstine
Review by Nickolas Cook
Sam’s Dot Publishing

First off, let me preface this review with the comment that the title says it all. This is not straight up horror the likes of which you’re probably familiar. Instead, Dagstine takes the tropes and archetypes of the horror genre and uses them to tell usually fantastical/alternate world stories with a decidedly dark bend. But unfortunately the old saying ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ mostly applies here. Dagstine gives nods to serial sci-fi adventure stories such as Doc Savage and Flash Gorden, one to the undead world of George Romero, and even a little love to swashbuckler films of the good old Errol Flynn school of sword and sails. But in the end this collection feels as if he’s trying so hard to borrow that he forgets to make it his own.
The biggest problem for a horror fan is that this collection is going to feel a little like too much cotton candy: sickly sweet and ultimately unsatisfying to digest. There isn’t much substance here.
One of the huge problem areas I found was the lack of genuine dialogue. It gets pretty cheesy in parts and pulls you right out of the story. There are a surplus of everyone’s favorite !!!. We should probably send out a newsletter to every new writer that !!! does not make for compelling reading; it does not add any drama to the dialogue and/or scene. It should, in short, be stricken from your freakin’ keyboard posthaste!!!
That being said, I will commend Dagstine for his attempt at trying to create in FRESH BLOOD something a little different in a so-so genre that may have seen its best days. In future, perhaps he will find more effective ways to do so.

--Nickolas Cook

This Ghosting Tide by Simon Clark
Review by Nickolas Cook
Bad Moon Books

As much as I love Clark‘s usual brand of unique fiction I have to admit I didn’t care much for his newest selection from the folks over at Bad Moon Books.
THIS GHOSTING TIDE tells the story of a weirdly diverse band of ghost hunters brought together by an eccentric and very rich man named Byron and his strangely human like monkey, Polidori (yes, you read that right all you fans of English poetry). They’re on a quest to prove the existence of a paranormal world beyond our own. Included in this merry band of misfits is Fletcher, a fat balding huckster playing the rich man for all he’s worth, Kit, the nonbeliever who needs money so badly he’s willing to get into coffins with dead people to get it, and Ashara, a strong willed woman helping to produce the material they hope to turn into a reality show for television.
After a fairly funny comedic opening to introduce the main characters, they’re approached by Ruth and her little sister Penny. The girls tip them off to an extraordinary daily event that happens near their home that they call The Ghosting Tide. Our intrepid ghost hunters rush to the scene just in time to be overwhelmed by a supernatural wave of pure evil that leaves them shaken. From there, the story gets a little…well…weird.
Sounds like a great little story, right? So why didn’t it strike a chord with me?
First and foremost, the narrative was jarring as hell. Clark makes a lot of assumptions to get the story moving along and doesn’t take much time to make them believable. These jumps in logic truly detract from the story and left me wishing he’d slow it down a bit and build some suspense. Now I know that’s hard to do in a wee book such as this (somewhere around 30K words, would be my guess), but if the story demands more room, give it the room, I say. Trying to cram too much into such a small area is just asking for criticism. And to me that’s an unforgivable writing sin.
Another thing that I didn’t care for much is that I got the sense Clark was sort of making sport of those who do believe in the supernatural. This may have been unintentional on his part (he was after all part of a now famous UK show called Winter Chills, a reality tv show about the paranormal) and can perhaps be forgiven. But it left me feeling letdown overall by his attitude towards the things that go bump in the night.
Bottom line: this is probably for Simon Clark completists only. For those who aren’t, save your money; Bad Moon Books puts out much better chap books than this one on a regular basis.

--Nickolas Cook

Wolfen By Whitley Streiber
Review by Nickolas Cook
Morrow (original publisher)

Personally, this reviewer thinks this is one of the classics of 70s horror fiction (but I may be a bit biased; see this month’s editorial) and it deserves a new audience. Sure, it’s a bit dated because of updated surveillance and detection technology available to today’s law enforcement, but still has bite…where it counts.
There is a species of prehistoric and super intelligent wolf-like creatures that feeds off of the dregs of society, the ones that aren’t likely to be missed: drug addicts, the homeless, etc., etc., and one particular pack of them is doing so in New York City. Unfortunately these wolf-like creatures kill a couple of on duty officers at a landfill and garner the attention of the police. That’s where Detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff come in, when they are assigned to the case. Along the way they find compelling evidence that this was no ordinary murder and try to call attention to the fact that something not human may be preying on the citizens of NYC. Of course, in true horror fiction fashion, no one believes them, despite some pretty overwhelming evidence, and the authorities try to shut them down before the press can get wind of their arguments.
But now the Wolfen (the name for the wolf-like monsters) know they’ve been exposed to humans and they must destroy Wilson and Neff before it’s too late.
What starts as a police procedural with a twist, soon becomes a chase novel (the Wolfen chasing the detectives) and then finally a siege novel.
By the novel’s end, Streiber leaves us with the notion that there are countless packs of these Wolfens roaming the world and soon their secret will be known to all mankind.
Of course, he doesn’t say what we’re likely to do to them once that happens, but I think we’ve all seen enough Hunting Channel to know we’re probably going to shoot them as quick as possible, right?
As good as the book is, there are problems. The first is that the dialogue comes off a bit stilted here and there, making it feel cardboard and unconvincing. Another issue I had is how far the authorities are willing to go to ignore the facts and keep the detectives silent. I suppose it could happen that way, but given the amount of evidence to the contrary, calling the killings a combination of carbon monoxide poisoning and indigenous after-death feeding seems a little too contrived to me. Of course, I’m sure he was concerned with pace at that point and didn’t want to hurry to fast towards the frantic, nail-biting conclusion.
Still, despite these minor flaws, WOLFEN is still a damned good read and should be picked up by any horror fan who wants to dive into the history of great horror bestsellers from the 70s.

--Nickolas Cook

Season of Rot: Five Zombie Novellas
By Eric S. Brown
Review by Nickolas Cook
Permuted Press

Just when you think the market couldn’t dare hold the weight off yet another zombie book, Eric S. Brown comes along and makes it feel new and fun again. Seriously, this was one hell of a great read. I wanted it to keep going.
Brown knows his way around the zombie film genre. Within the five novellas presented in Season of Rot (Season of Rot, The Queen, The Wave, Dead West, and The Rats) you have nods from everything from Romero’s undead to Bruno Mattei’s cheapjack flesh eaters. There’s even a little nod to Grau’s masterpiece “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”. But don’t get me wrong: these are not your normal shambling piles of hungry R-jelly monsters, folks. No, these zombies are super-charged, gun-toting, clever as hell creatures intent on using the last of mankind as food (see The Queen as to how they plan to do so) or simply just to eradicate them. Brown knows what works best in zombie fiction: gore, isolation, siege fighting and survival mentality. And no one is safe in his story. You think you know who will make it through each story, but you don’t. Brown manages to give his readers enough twist and turns and originality, in a sub-genre of fiction that feels quite frankly as if it will never die a good death, to keep you turning the pages. In short, he gives his reader the unexpected.
As I’ve mentioned in other reviews, I think a good novella is extremely difficult to pull off. Here, Brown does it not once, but five times. Each one of these little jewels would have been worth the cover price, but Permuted Press gives us five outstanding examples of not only great novella writing (pacing, dialogue, and well drawn out characters in a limited amount of space), but every one is also some of the best zombie fiction I’ve read in ages (not since Brian Keene’s masterwork, “The Rising”). Why this guy hasn’t found big house success yet, is a mystery to me. Hey, Leisure! How about calling this guy and getting a full blown zombie manuscript from him?
Given what I’ve read in SEASON OF ROT I expect Brown in the next few years is going to kick horror butt and take names.

--Nickolas Cook

TIME CAPSULES classic book reviews by Bill Lindblad

The Running of Beasts by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg

I have recommended this title to people for decades. It was printed by Doubleday in 1976, released in mass market paperback by Fawcett shortly thereafter, and reissued by Black Lizard crime fiction in 1988.
Black Lizard was a relatively new brand, but it had a great list, focusing on out-of-print titles by Jim Thompson, David Goodis, James M. Cain and other classic crime writers. And then there were two by Bill Pronzini: a solo novel, Masques, and this collaboration with Barry N. Malzberg, one of the most prolific and thoughtful (if often bleak) writers of science fiction in the 1970s.
This is not a traditional crime novel any more than is Psycho or Silence of the Lambs. It is horror, without any supernatural element. The book focuses on a series of brutal slayings of women in a small town in upstate New York. A writer from a prominent national magazine convinces her editor to send her there for the story using a double hook: she grew up in the town, and she’s bringing a psychologist with an interesting theory about the murderer.
The theory provides the structure of the novel. The killer is committing the murders while in a disassociated state, likely in the structure of a blackout to his conscious mind. According to the psychiatrist, his steadily increasing aggression and recklessness are indications of a movement toward reconciliation between his conscious and fugue/blackout state.
We, as the reader, are provided with four reasonable prospects for the killer, and all of them are given fair treatment as they interact with secondary characters, the returning journalist, and each other. We watch as the characters reveal secrets, as fear and doubt riddle them, as their personalities fissure under pressure, and the reactions are note-perfect. This is partly a serial killer thriller, partly a character study, and partly a puzzle story, and it works on all levels.
Exceptional collaborations are rare. When they occur, it’s because both writers are able to imbue the story with their own style and expertise without detracting from their co-author’s efforts. This is an exceptional collaboration. Both writers have a superior grasp of language, and an eye for characterization. Pronzini had already earned a reputation as a creator of realistic mysteries and Malzberg was exploring the failings of the human mind under stress. The pair joined forces again for a few later novels, some anthology work, and some short fiction. They typically produced above-average work, and often brilliant stories. Their first, however, is probably their best.

Five stars out of five.

Tiger Rag by Kit Reed

I looked at the cover blurbs for the paperback edition of this novel: “A Stunning Tale of Psychological Horror… Intriguing, Absorbing, Skillfully Written.” - Washington Post Book World. “An Engrossing Tale of Contemporary Horror That Touches on the Depravity Lurking in Us All.” - The New Haven Register.
I considered the author: Kit Reed. Kit is an anomaly; she has written more contemporary literature than she has science fiction or horror, but she is known to most of the literary field as a science fiction or horror writer. To the casual horror or science fiction reader, she is virtually unknown.
I read the first few pages. When a partially-dissolved body is discovered by playing children, you can expect the story to be somewhat gruesome. I worked past the cover (a close-up of a tiger with a flower upon its muzzle, a ghostly silhouette of a woman rising from the pistil) and dug in for some horror from 1973.
Quickly, I warmed to Kit Reed’s carefully structured casual style; it is mildly jarring when she writes from the viewpoints of characters other than the main (Dorothea) because the reader is primarily identifying with her. That criticism aside, the language is easily accessible even when the sentiments are complex.
Fifty pages in, I was wondering if I was in for something along the lines of early Straub… a carefully laid foundation of characters and events which, when the terror started, would carry the reader along like a speeding roller coaster.
Eighty pages in, I finally “got it”. I’d like to think I’m not normally that obtuse, and that I had merely been spoiled by books like Julia and If You Could See Me Now. There was no gore in the book, no grue from the reader, and very little of what would be classified as horror under the contemporary definitions.
And once I stopped expecting it, I started reading the novel for what it was: a literate, complex examination of a woman who is slowly falling apart under the burden of unresolved issues from childhood. Kit Reed has often been described as a feminist writer, and this novel is a fine example. For a novel written in the early 1970s, at the height of the Feminist political movement, however, this book is starkly apolitical; it focuses on the female protagonist and displays both her failings and strengths, not as a philosophical vehicle but as a person.
In this, the book succeeds, and it is well written if not as engrossing as many of her later works. The psychological horror referenced in the blurbs is subtle and understated, however, and I expect many contemporary readers, particularly male readers, will fail to be affected by Dorothea’s attempt to quiet her inner turmoil and feelings of alienation while keeping her family together.

Three stars out of five.

Old House of Fear by Russell Kirk

The Gothic novel is the literary equivalent of Whist. At one time, most card-playing Americans played Whist, and most readers of thrillers read gothic literature. The game is mildly popular elsewhere, however, and so are gothic novels.
The joke goes that a gothic involves a woman inheriting a house, and to be fair that does happen in this novel. But the heart of the subgenre is more accurately about the conflict between the ancient and the modern (typically presented in the form of the setting… thus, why most of the books feature castles, mansions, and other large dwellings which can reasonably be presented as having existed from some level of antiquity), about isolation, and about confrontations with evil… usually subjugation by or deference to evil, followed by redemption.
Old House of Fear does not use the latter device, primarily because it would be antithetical to the subtext of the story. The author, Russell Kirk, wrote this novel both with the intent of telling an interesting story and also with an eye toward contextual political critique.
Russell Kirk was primarily a historian and a political theorist, and he let a little of that bleed over into this, his first novel. The result is something similar to G.K. Chesterson’s The Man Who Was Thursday, in that the villains of the piece are firmly grounded in the reality of the time of writing.
Here, the villains are Soviet agents, and Kirk uses his familiarity with historical events and the known methodology of such agents to add verisimilitude to his story. The result reads like a cross between a traditional gothic novel and John Buchan’s The Thirty-Nine Steps. This is, thankfully, not a negative. The combination works quite well, keeping the pace of the story moving and making the characters seem more realistic than they might be with slighter motivations.
The writing is denser than is currently fashionable, focusing more on long, descriptive paragraph structure than dialogue. Conversations are presented as if they are in plays, with first one character, then another speaking at length. This does not detract from the story, but rather adds to the dramatic effect of the novel.
The plot is simple. The main character is traveling to a small island off of the Scottish coast as an agent for a retiring industrialist, with the intent to purchase said island and the castle (the “Old House of Fear” of the title) upon it. Problems ensue. That’s the plot. Strangely, it works.
The primary criticism I have of this novel is of Kirk’s use of dialect. His protagonist has traveled from America to Scotland. We understand that, as readers; I’m not a fan of forcing the reader to mentally modify words into their properly-spelled form unless the accents being represented are particularly oppressive. In Kirk’s book, nearly every Scot is virtually incomprehensible. That complaint aside, it is an effective, fun Gothic which is constructed well, presented well, and entertaining.

Four stars out of five.

Stories From The Other Passenger by John Keir Cross

This is, at its core, only a partial review.
The original book The Other Passenger was published in 1946. In the early 1960s, Ballantine Books was producing an experimental horror line which consisted primarily of novels and collections which had not been readily available to the American public. This included three novels by Sarban (Runestones, The Sound of His Horn, and The Dollmaker) and abridged versions of some of the Arkham House collections. Betty and Ian Ballantine decided to combine their efforts at introducing European authors to the US readers of that time and their collection abridgements, and produced “Stories from the Other Passenger”. It contains nine of the eighteen stories which were present in the original volume, but from those nine, an impression of the author’s work can be derived. More to the point, the stories which comprise the book are those which the Ballantines felt were the most effective and/or most famous, and thus the smaller book may present a brighter image of the man’s overall efforts than the complete collection.
In any event, the book is subtitled “Terror in Needlepoint”. This is both a clue for and a warning to the potential reader.
The stories are effective, although diminished by time. With the sole exception of the final and eponymous story, there are no supernatural elements in these stories. They are merely reflections on the everyday evils at the edges of lives.
At the edges of lives… not at the edges of our lives. The bulk of the stories in the collection are related from the point of view of a first-person narrator who is somehow involved in the events of the story. The result is not stories which rely too heavily upon dialect, but stories which are very much attached to a particular locale at a specific point in time. A story told from the perspective of a Bohemian-inspired artist in a city in England is full of references to people who were famous at the time, and place names specific to the locale. It undoubtedly increased the believability of the tales at the time they were written, but the passage of time has left the stories feeling dated.
Worse, the events which were meant at the time to inspire dread are typically less disturbing than events regularly reported in the news. One example: a man discovers that the small bed he was only barely able to rent for the night became open because of the significant offer of money he was inspired to make… and that prior to his sleep, it was the resting place of the dying child of the proprietors of the rental cottage. In contemporary horror, the man would discover that the proprietors had killed their child to make room for the easy cash; in this story, it is revealed that the child had been sick and had died hours before the man arrived. The horror is meant to be that, rather than let the child’s body lay in repose for a short time, the parents hustled her out into a coffin mere hours after her death and rented the bed before it had fully warmed. This seems mild compared to a video of a beating death or a story of abduction and rape, which are the sorts of things that pepper our current news cycle.
The stories are interesting, and the writing is technically precise. The horror associated with them is tempered by time and distance, however.

Three stars out of five.

The King In Yellow by Robert W. Chambers

This is not a novel, but a collection of stories related either by common elements or general mood. It was written in 1895, and was Chambers’ first book. Some names were taken from Ambrose Bierce… Hastur, Carcosa… but for the most part this is merely a brilliant work by a new writer. The first story is set in the future (1920) and theorizes an America transformed by war and science, which adds rather than detracts from the plot. The reader is automatically confronted by a world which seems well-defined, but operates with a different history, and thus a different reality, than ours. That generates an air of disquiet which is maintained throughout the book.
This is one of the principal inspirations for Lovecraft, and I expect for many in the “Lovecraft Circle” as well; I find it difficult to believe that Clark Ashton Smith was not heavily influenced by the stories in The King in Yellow.
That said, the age of the book works against it. Not in readability; the book holds up surprisingly well for something more than a hundred years old. Rather, the book is in public domain, but not remarkably famous outside of a specific readership: horror fans, and in particular fans of Lovecraftean horror. Often, the only place a reader can find a copy is from a small press, at a price two to three times that of a standard mass-market paperback.
This is a shame. At his best, the prose is evocative yet concise, reminiscent of earlier writers like Poe and current writers like Thomas Ligotti. This is most clearly seen in the first story in the book, “The Repairer of Reputations.” While the remainder of the collection is somewhat uneven, I believe that is balanced by his choice of concepts, and the mixing of then-established story formats with a bleak mood. Chambers presented tales of madness and mixed them with failed romanticism, and in so doing created something which both deserves reading as a literary landmark (a point of direct inspiration for the Lovecraft mythos) and as a story collection.

Five stars out of five.

--Bill Lindblad

13 Questions with MyMiserys: Steven Wedel

Interview conducted by MyMiserys (aka Kimberly Cook)

1. How old were you when you wrote what you consider your first story?
I was ... 15 years old.

2. What inspired you to write it?
I'd just switched over from high fantasy to horror in my reading tastes. Me, my girlfriend and another friend got in to see Halloween II (the original sequel, not the new Rob Zombie thing) and I loved it. Hadn't even seen the first Halloween yet. Well, right after that my high school composition teacher assigned a short story. So I wrote a piece called "Insanity" about a picked-on boy who gets revenge. The story would get a kid arrested in this post-Columbine society, but my teacher loved it.

3. What was the first book you wrote?
The first one I finished is called The Prometheus Syndrome. I went through and did an overhaul on it a year or so back and now Bad Moon Books will release it next year.

4. Of all the books you've written, which is your favorite?
That's tough. Shara will always be a very special book to me, but Amara's Prayer, my graduate thesis, is probably my best work.

5. Which book would you like to forget you wrote?
None, really. The one that will never, ever see print is called We the People. It's a sci-fi story written during my political awakening. Futuristic society, Greenpeace has taken over the world, Colorado was nuked and is now a minimum security prison area for people who don't conform, young man is sent there and finds NORAD and then a space ship meant for colonization of another planet. Bad stuff.

6. Who is the most influential person in your life?
Wow. I guess the person who has the most influence over me now would be my wife, of course. But I have to say kudos to Mom, who taught me to love reading. She doesn't have much education herself, but she read to me as a kid and always made sure I had books to read. That was huge.

7. Who is your favorite author?
Only one? Living, I'd say William Peter Blatty. But I love most of John Steinbeck's books, and Charles Dickens. And ... Okay, Blatty.

8. If you could only own one book, what would it be?
What the hell? You didn't tell me this would be a torture session. Only one book? Gah! David Copperfield, the best book ever written in English.

9. When and where do you write?
Whenever nobody's bothering me, wherever I happen to be with a computer. Sadly, it isn't often enough.

10. Do you have a "day job?"
A pair of them, actually. I teach English at Western Heights High School in Oklahoma City and, because teachers make squat for pay and I'm a bit of a sadist, I also work as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher and tester for Oklahoma City Community College.

11. Do you have a "dream job?
Umm, yeah. Full-time novelist.

12. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
The Oregon coast. Like Legolas, I never should have seen the sea. The sound of the tide, the smell of the salt, the mystery of the place where the land ends and the water begins, plus the lushness of the land ... It's just an amazing place to someone born and raised in the inland wheat fields of Oklahoma.

13. What is your guilty pleasure?
Sheep. No, wait! Don't print that. Every once in a while I get melancholy and will listen to old Air Supply CDs. Okay, maybe we should go with the sheep thing.


(The Black Glove would like to thank Steve Wedel for his time and effort)

Movie vs. Book: The Mask of Fu Manchu

First off, I want to say I’m very jealous of Bill as far as these reviews go. Movies rarely can equal the book, let alone exceed. So it goes without saying that he usually gets to review more quality than I do. Yes, this time around the movie was far from great. Not nearly as bad as The Mephisto Waltz (if you never read our takes on that, go back two issues and take a look). Even if it doesn’t reach that level of craptacularity, The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932) is hardly what I would call good.
An archeology professor is sent to retrieve the mask and sword buried with Genghis Khan before the evil Fu Manchu can get his hands on them and, harnessing their power, lead Asia to world domination. Before he can, though, Fu Manchu kidnaps him. Which leaves his daughter and her boyfriend to find him, and stop Fu Manchu, before it is too late.
A lot has been made of the racism in the movie. Yes, there is a ton on both sides. Fu Manchu’s main motivation runs along the “Kill Whitey” lines, at one point proclaiming that the relics will allow them to “kill the white man and take all the white women.” The white folks also get their offensive utterances, referring to Fu Manchu as a “yellow beast”.

Oh, if only the racism was the only problem with the movie. It’s also offensive to women. The daughter, played by Karen Morely, started out as a sane, level headed woman. Halfway through, though, she loses all sense of logic and, because of her runaway emotions, makes decisions that result in deaths. Why the sudden change is anyone’s guess, other than they needed to have certain things done to advance the plot. Sure, there is one strong female character—Fu Manchu’s daughter, played by Myrna Loy. She is intelligent and strong. However, that is tempered by a weird sadistic sexuality that the filmmakers could never have gotten away with post-Code (if whipping is your thing, though, there is one scene in here that’s sure to please).
To be fair, the men don’t get off too easy either. They seem to lose any sense of sense whenever convenient to the plot. The archeologists are deciding who gets to watch the relics overnight, and discuss taking shifts of every couple hours. One proclaims that he can do it all night. They quickly agree, tell him they’ll see him in the morning and leave him be. You know no good can come of this.
One of the bad aspects of the movie actually enhanced my enjoyment of it. The actors chew so much scenery they must have saved a fortune in catering. The two biggest hams are Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu and Loy as his daughter. At one point, Karloff gets so enthusiastic about his performance he totally forgets he was supposed to be doing a Chinese accent and slips into European. Loy seems to be relishing her chance to play a hyper sexed, dominant woman and gets near orgasmic every time our heroes feel an ounce of pain.
While not the worst movie I’ve ever seen, The Mask of Fu Manchu is far from good. Yes, I had fun giggling at the offensive, yet oddly funny, dialogue and laughing at the over-the-top performances. However, without fermented beverage refreshment, it would be difficult for someone to coax me into watching this again.
There has to be good book adaptations out there. If anyone has suggestions, PLEASE post a comment making a recommendation. Because if this level of quality continues, I may be forced to have Bill review the Gor book/movie duo. If I’m going to suffer through this, he might as well also.

--Jenny Oresol

The Mask of Fu Manchu was a fairly good book. It was a pretty lousy Fu Manchu book. I’ll explain.
I’d only read the first two Fu Manchu novels prior to this one… The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu and The Return of Fu Manchu. Both were fun, and both were ideal for a horror review. The Doctor, after all, is presented as highly honorable, a brilliant botanist and biologist, a natural leader, a manipulator of men and events as a chess-player is a manipulator of the pieces on his board. Unfortunately for his enemies, he is also ruthless and devious, and wants to elevate China to its rightful (in his mind) place of dominance over the Western societies. He is not sadistic, but neither will he hesitate to kill.
He is opposed by Nayland Smith and Dr. Petrie, men who have earned his respect either through their ability to avoid death at his hands (Smith) or because their medical expertise is promising (Petrie).
The books, therefore, consisted of Fu Manchu targeting people or objects which would help him bring about political victories for China, and Smith and Petrie trying to stop him, or at least mitigate the damage accrued by Fu’s successes. Along the way, victims would die through obscure deathtraps, oddly-trained thugs, rare and modified animals (foot-long spiders, snakes with instantaneous poisons) and engineered plants and fungi. The closer one got to Fu Manchu, the more dangerous the environment became.
Then we have Mask. In it, one… count them, one… person dies on the heroes’ side. He is killed early in the book, and the device used is effectively a 1930s version of the Batrope, so the assassin may slide into a room on the second story. The other big accomplishment of the villain is… a hypnotic narcotic. That’s it.
Oh, I nearly forgot, the rope is made from the web of a specially modified spider. That spider is never seen in the pages of the book.
The plot consists primarily of Fu trying to gain the mask, sword, and Koran of Amir Khan. This is because the archaeologist father of the protagonist’s fiancee unearthed them and is transporting them illegally. In an effort to cover his tracks, the professor blew up the remaining ruins, but the charges were set too high and the flare of the explosion was seen. This has started rumors that the Khan has returned to unify the Moslem world against the West.
Fu Manchu is intending to claim himself as the risen Khan, at least in spirit, and he needs the artifacts to present to the lead clerics at the time and place specified in prophecy. If he does not have them at the meeting, he has no further use for them; obviously the prophecy has not yet begun… false alarm.
What we have here is a great setup for a Fu Manchu story. He’s smarter than the heroes and has far more resources, but he’s also got a far more restrictive set of conditions for his victory.
What we get is a well-told adventure story that could have involved nearly any other villain. It’s like watching a James Bond movie that has no stunts, firefights, or explosions. It could still be a great spy movie, but you’d feel a bit let down. That’s my feeling after reading this book. A very good adventure, but a poor Fu Manchu.
Oh, and I want to point out: This is the first time I’ve NOT watched the full movie with Jen. Yes, I subjected her to The Mephisto Waltz… but I subjected myself to the same thing. She’s not the only one suffering.

--Bill Lindblad

Fresh Blood: New Releases In the World of Horror

Release date: Oct 2, 2009
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin.
This film follows a group of survivors in a post apocalyptic zombie world. Their exploits have them moving from city to city while fending off hordes of zombies. This horror comedy mirrors the film Shaun of the Dead. Gore, laughs and horror can be expected from this film.

Paranormal Activity
Release date: Out now in select cities.
Starring: Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, Michael Bayouth
This indie film has recently made waves in the horror community. It has been praised as one of the scariest films in years. This film was originally going to be remade by Paramount pictures before Steven Spielberg decided to release the original. Paranormal Activity takes a page out of the Blair Witch project as it is filmed from a first person perspective. In the film a couple decides to setup a digital camera to film what goes on at night as they believe they are being haunted by an evil spirit. If your one of the ones not lucky enough to have it showing in your city request it be played in more cities by going to this link

Night of the Demons (Remake)
Release date Oct 9, 2009
Starring: Edward Furlong, Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena
This remake of the 1988 film follows the basic premise of the original. A group of teens gather to party at a deserted location. They accidentally summon demons during their party and spend the night trying to avoid being killed and possessed by the demons. This time around we have the demon Angela being played by Hottie Shannon Elizabeth. Be on the lookout for a cameo by horror vet Linnea Quigley

Release date Oct 23, 2009
Starring: Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
This controversial film caused uproar at the different film festivals that it has been screened at. The film follows a couple who go to the woods to escape their everyday lives and to cope with the death of their son. The film has been quoted as being very sexual, and bloody, which sounds like a good time to me.

Other notable releases this month include House of the Devil on Oct 30, and Saw 6 out Oct 23.

--Steven Duarte

Celluloid Horrors Movie Reviews

The Demon (1978)

Screenwriter: Masato Ide, based on a story by Seicho Matsumoto
Director: Yoshitaro Nomura
Sokichi: Ken Ogata
Oume: Shima Iwashita
Kikuyo: Mayumi Ogawa
Riichi: Hiroki Iwase

What is the most horrific category of crime a human being can commit? Without too much thought, most people will say murder. Now a second question: what type of murder is the worst? Serial killing? Terrorism? Political assassinations? Though all these are heinous in the extreme, in answer to that second question, most will think “the murder of a child”. So why does murdering children carry such an extra freight of evil over the killing of adults? We prize our children for the most obvious of reasons: they are our legacy, they are a part of us, and they are innocent. These are the keys to understanding where the ultimate horror of this film lies.

THE DEMON, the 1978 film based on a story by Seicho Matsumoto and directed by the talented Yoshitaro Nomura, is the story of three illegitimate children abandoned by their mother on the doorstep of their father and his horrid wife. The father, Sokichi, has been carrying on an affair with the mother for seven years, and now his chickens have literally come home to roost. Enduring an all day trip from another city to drop the children off at their father’s printing shop/residence, and after initially bedding down there, the mother Kikuyo runs out in the middle of the night and disappears.

Sokichi’s wife Oume is stunned, not only by the news that he has been deceiving her for seven years, but also by the fact that she is an instant mother. Barren herself for reasons unexplained in the film, her resentment and rage are mountainous. From the very first moment she treats the three children, 5-year Riichi, 3-year old Yoshiko and 18 month old Shoji, with shocking cruelty and brutality. In the beginning, the story more resembles a fairy tale or fable than it does horror, paralleling Cinderella with the three children menaced by their wicked stepmother. But as the cruelties pile one on top of another, unlike in fairy tales, the distance between the viewer and the characters begins to disappear, and the horror grows. The viewer experiences a feeling of helplessness that must be akin to what these three innocent children are suffering, but the viewer in his or her adult wisdom knows what is coming, while the children do not, and are thus incapable of avoiding their fate. It’s like watching a car bear down on the back of a heedless deaf person – you want desperately to warn them, but you cannot. The subject matter here is so touchy that you would be hard pressed to name many popular books or films that deal with it directly. People just aren’t thrilled at the idea of watching children brutalized. But THE DEMON draws you in gradually with the same fascination with which one watches a train wreck.

Sokichi is the epitome of a weakly evil person. When the mother, forced to spend the night at the printing shop with her children since the last train of the day has already gone, becomes loudly upset, Sokichi contemplates leaving his wife’s bed to see what is wrong. As he begins rise, Oume slashes him with a razor to stop him from going to the woman. Sokichi meekly takes this punishment and sinks back into bed. All throughout the movie there are examples of the shrewish Oume’s monstrous behavior, to which Sokichi almost invariably gives in. But this isn’t just the story of a wicked stepmother. Sokichi ultimately bears responsibility for what happens. He is at first silently and later actively complicit in the crimes, surely earning a spot for himself in hell if such a place actually exists.

A key subtext in the film is the relationship between the father and the oldest boy, Riichi. It lends an extra dimension to the climax of the film, elevating it from a simple suspense tale ala THE STEPFATHER to something more, making it a film which has something to say about what separates human behavior from the behavior of animals merely concerned with their own comfort and survival.

The horror here is the absolute abdication of parental responsibility and the complete lack of love that Sokichi demonstrates. As a father, Sokichi had a duty to not only protect but to love his children, but he shirks both responsibilities. Oume shows an utter lack of morality as she plots and schemes, with and without Sokichi, to rid herself of these unwanted “pests”, but she is a garden variety monster. Sokichi and Kikuyo are the true demons here. They both have the power to prevent the tragedies, and neither cares enough to take the right action. One abandons the children to their father, and the other abandons the children to their fate without lifting a finger. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but suffice it to say that there are surprises in store, despite what you think you may now know about this film.

This is not an easy film to watch. There were parts where I was so upset that I almost wanted to turn off the DVD player. Not because of anything graphic or tasteless, but because of the sheer cruelty of the experience. But the film is so well made, the performances so spot on, that the viewer will be mesmerized. Maybe it’s because I am a father that it hit me so hard. Perhaps childless viewers won’t be quite as affected. But I rather doubt that will be the case. Normal human beings care about children, and tend to have a natural instinct to protect them. My guess is most everyone who watches this film will be as disturbed as I was.

--John Miller

Terror Beneath the Sea (1966)

Director: Hajime Sato
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Peggy Neal, Franz Gruber, Steve Queens, Andre Husse, and Erik Neilson

Can ya'll say Sonny Chiba? Hell, yeah!
Chiba, last seen in Tarantino's Kill Bill films, has come a long way since starring in Terror Beneath the Sea, in which he plays Ken, an intrepid journalist.
During a Naval demonstration of a new weapon, a mysterious undersea man swims by the submarine. This sparks Ken and his beautiful sidekick, Jenny (read main squeeze), to investigate. They dive undersea, only to be captured by a crazy scientist intent on creating an army of fish men to take over the world (or at least the oceans of the world), using a top secret Processing Formula. Don’t panic, as the Processing Formula consists of getting a shot and then having to stand around in a gas chamber for ten minutes while all the actors grimace and frown and say things like 'proceed', and some funky electronic music plays in the background. Then a dubbed German scientist chains you to a table and does some half assed operation. this is the part you can safely fats forward through. You ain't gonna miss anything. Chiba does nothing but grasp Jenny and look intense for the camera.
After this silliness if over, Ken and Jenny are offered the chance to join our crazy world dominating scientist because...well, that's never made exactly clear, seeing as how they're just a couple of meddling reporters. Maybe he's going to start his own undersea newspaper or something. The Daily Coral has a nice ring to it.
Ken and Jenny attempt to escape and are sentenced to become fish people as well. They get injected, stand around for a while in a gas tank, listen to the tunes, have a bunch of crap smeared on their faces by the special effects crew, and generally do a lot of kicking and screaming for no reason.
Meanwhile, and this is where the story gets dicey, there's a special agent scientist and his friends flying around in a plane over the ocean looking for them, a kidnapped scientist is dragged into the picture to do some more grimacing and yelling, and a submarine full of dubbed dolts attack the undersea facility, thereby pushing the story into a state of denouement, as the fish men attack their masters.
For an actor known for his fight scenes, there are precious few in Terror Beneath the Sea. Chiba has two rock em' sock em' scenes and they're short, and have been sped up to make them look more intense.
The stars of this film are the terrible fish men. Those rubber suits just look weird and might even give you a nightmare or two, with those alien bird eyes and those pointed faces. All in all it might keep you away from sushi for a bit.
The production values are typical Tokyo cheap and the director Sato doesn't show near as much verve as he did in his cult classic "Goke". The music is strictly background, except during the transformation scenes. There are no extras on this stripped down DVD.

--Nickolas Cook

I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Director: Del Tenney
Cast: William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Betty Hyatt Linton, Dan Stapleton, and Walter Coy

Egads! The horror, the horror...
Written, produced, and directed by the same man who brought us the 'classics' "The Horror of Party Beach" and "The Curse of the Living Corpse" we have one of drive-in culture's landmark films, "I Eat Your Skin". But, hey, let's get this straight right off the bat: There is no skin eaten in this movie. That being said, one CAN feel brain cells dying. Swiftly. Never to be reborn again.
This bottom of the barrel schlock fest (originally known as VOODOO BLOOD BATH) sat on the shelf for six years before it was rescued from cinema obscurity by a distributor who got the nifty idea to make it part of a nation wide drive-in double feature with the infamous (and just as lame) I DRINK YOUR BLOOD.
The plot is simple: A cancer researcher on a remote Caribbean island discovers treating the natives with snake venom turns them into bug-eyed zombies. But his employer has no interest in seeing bug eyed acting, and forces the scientist to create an army of the creatures in order to conquer the world. There's a pretty daughter with all the acting skills of a Tonka toy, a vulpine evil scientist, and an ass load of pissed off natives sporting the latest in bone-wear and fake spears. The natives seem pretty embarrassed by the whole thing, but some of them try hard to keep a straight face while mumbling 'voodoo' rites and dancing around (actually the dancing isn't bad, really).
Slow is a nice way of putting it, as brash, young thriller writer William Joyce dashes from one end of the darkened island to the other, always without breaking a sweat, and his shirt open to display his hirsute acting talents. He falls in love, fights zombies, an evil scientist, and is just an all around funny, charming guy. His agent and agent's wife are along for the ride.
And who said being a writer was boring, eh?
The production values are typical for a Z-grade studio, working on a less-than shoestring budget. The music is early 60s lounge lizard. And the effects range from derisive snicker to downright tear-inducing, side-clutching guffaw.
But if you want a laugh, and looking for your own homemade version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, "I Eat Your Skin" is just what the evil zombie scientist ordered.

--Nickolas Cook

Lifeforce (1985)
Director: Tobe Hooper
Cast: Steve Railsback, Mathilda May, Peter Firth, Frank Finlay and Patrick Stewart

In a not too distant future, a British/American joint space crew goes to study the oncoming Halley’s Comet as it makes its way towards Earth. They discover a long tubular alien space craft hiding in the comet’s tail discharge. Inside, they find a race of shriveled bat-like creatures hanging around, and three humanoid aliens, which seem to be in suspended animation. They gather the human looking aliens and start the return trip home. But all communication ceases suddenly and a new crew is sent to rescue the first crew. They find the ship has been almost completely gutted by fire and the only things left are the three humanoid aliens, still seemingly asleep.
Back on earth, scientists are about to do an autopsy on possibly the hottest alien ever to go naked (Mathilda May), when she awakens and sucks the life force from her guard, leaving the burned out husk of his body behind. The government scrambles to capture her, but she escapes using vast mental powers. A special agent is assigned to captain the search.
Shortly afterwards, the lone survivor (Steve Railsback) comes hurtling back to earth in a capsule and no memory of what’s happened to the rest of his crew.
Seems he’s got some sort of strange psychic link with the naked alien and the government uses him to track her down. She has the ability to transfer her life force into host bodies, and winds up in a variety of bodies, including good old Capt. Picard at one point.
Adding to the danger, everyone who the space vampires suck the life from become new vampires and soon they’re attacking the living for their life force. The space vampire disease spreads across the country , until things go from bad to worse (from weird to sort of convolutedly unbelievable, even for a horror film) and soon all of London is overrun with the humans-cum-space-vampires (which resemble zombies more than vampires) and soon Railsback and fellow government special agent Peter Firth are trying to fight their way back into London to stop the female alien from transmitting her collected human life forces into her alien mother ship. Apparently, we humans make a pretty good space fuel.
I won’t spoil the end of the film for you, but suffice it to say, it tends towards ambiguity.
Tobe Hooper is one of those director’s who, when he’s on, can make some really great flicks. Unfortunately, LIFEFORCE isn’t one of those flicks. Oh, it’s decent entertainment, but it’s hardly a TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE or even a good time FUNHOUSE. And the problem may lie in the fact that he was trying desperately to escape the stricture of straight horror by using a sci-fi horror story instead (and one written by the great Colin Wilson to boot). It just doesn’t jell most of the time and there’re very few scares to be had. It’s mostly entertaining for Mathilda May walking around stark naked for a good amount of the film. The acting is a bit histrionic and uncontrolled, the special effects decent, but not really ground breaking, even for its time. What you got with LIFEFORCE is a movie that pays heavy homage to the classic Quatermass films of the 50s and 60s, thoroughly British thinking man’s sci-fi/horror movies that usually had something to do with strangely ambivalent alien invasion, which were usually short on bombast and heavy on science. After all is said and done, Hooper does a decent job of capturing the spirit of the Quatermass films.
Unfortunately, US audiences for the most part in 1985 didn’t know diddle squat about them, and saw this as a scattered and too slow mess of UK/US accents.
This is a movie for Hooper or horror completists, or perhaps for the stray Quatermass fan here and there. Are there any left alive in this age of CGI madness and boom-boom-clap-clap moviemaking?

--Nickolas Cook

Kevrock's Classic Video Movie Review: Creature From the Black Lagoon 1954

Foreign Fears: R-Point

R-Point (2004)
Director: Su-chang Kong
Cast: Woo-seong Kam, Byung-ho Son, Tae-kyung Oh, Won-sang Park, and Seon-gyun Lee

During the Vietnam War, a South Korean army base begins receiving mysterious radio transmissions from a patrol that went missing six months earlier. A shell-shocked commanding officer (Gam Woo-Sung) and a ragtag military unit are sent into the desolate stretch of land known as R-Point to gather clues as to the whereabouts of the missing soldiers. What appeared to be a clear search and rescue mission turns into something far more terrifying than any battle.
"R-Point" is full of what makes a horror movie work. From the first scene of a radio delivering a message from dead men, it is utterly creepy. The director keeps his cinematography atmospheric, making the most of the jungle setting's isolation and natural colors. As with the best of war pictures, the story never lets you forget that these men are soldiers and could be killed anytime by an enemy cloaked in the green darkness of the bamboo; there is always a sense of death waiting. The actors are absolutely wonderful, with the obvious blundering exception of the only English-speaking actors to appear in the film. While these cretins deliver their lines like lumber at a Home Depot, the native born Koreans take their work seriously, pulling you into a willing sense of disbelief, making the supernatural seem real purely through their reactions to the storyline's impossible events.
The music, dark and foreboding throughout most of the film, is full of traditional Oriental instruments to add a ghostly exotic flavor to the scenes, and really keeps the atmosphere bleak.
The special effects are minimal, and for that less-is-more philosophy, we are allowed to let our imaginations create faces in the shadows far worse than anything a CGI crew could have done.
A few standout scenes for me (without giving too much away): the dead soldier conversing with his comrade in the midnight shrouded bunker scene, the cemetery scene, the silent patrol in the grass scene, and the end radio scene.
Brrrrr... You'll know them when you see them. Trust me.
But "R-Point" isn't a perfect horror film, as it does suffer from what I like to call "Ringu-itis". You know...that's when an Asian film company can't help but stick a longhaired young woman in a white dress in the movie to represent evil spirits. And that's where the film's biggest failure comes in to play. There is no obvious reason for the insertion of a "Ringu" chick. The film cruises along quite well up to that point, and then feels a bit deflated and unsatisfactory because of it.
As well, the ending is a bit muddled as to why the possessions take place and these meaningless rapid-fire scenes get a little tiresome.
There are some extraneous Infrared POV shots throughout the film, presumably to denote the presence of evil spirits, but they fall flat as hell against the much scarier things we don't see and only imagine.
But all in all, "R-Point" is very much worth these minor flaws in story logic. It's a memorable horror movie- much more so than anything the American cinema has offered in the last five or more years. Anyone wanna bet how soon it takes for Hollywood to decide to remake it with American actors?

--Nickolas Cook