Black Masses from the Electric Wizard

The new Electric Wizard album - Black Masses - has arrived!

And what better than Black Masses to listen to on Halloween... ?

Learn + listen here.



I was gonna hoard this in case I ever wanted to submit it and see if I could get it published, but I'm lazy so god knows when that'd be (it's already outdated since it refers to an old TV that still works), it's probably not good enough anyway, and where the hell's a market for horror short stories nowdays anyway? So, I'll follow the tradition I (tried to) start last year and put the sumbitch up here. Hopefully it'll scare the hell out of ya, or at least give you some purple prose to pelt with tomatoes. I tweaked it a little but it's probably still a little thick in parts... I'm not a great editor.

No stealin', copyright 2010 by me.

Up The Stairs, Where The Windows Are Painted Black

The sky was probably blue somewhere on Earth, but you'd never know it from here. The sky always grew bigger as winter started to come in, withering the flesh off the trees and leaving their skeletons to claw at a sky gone grey. Heavy cloud cover slowly drifted like dust stirring on the glass floor of Heaven. With the leaves gone and the grass dead and all the neighbors conforming to some unspoken agreement about white-paint-only, there seemed to be no color on Earth, either. And this house - huge, terribly old, tilting slightly in the ground like a loose tooth - was perhaps the most colorless part of it all. It wasn't even white anymore, just a faded grey like the sky.

All this colorlessness made the orange flames high on the roof really stand out. It was a small fire as yet, but splintery as the derelict was the flames would have their way with it in a manner of minutes. Probably the best thing for it; an abandoned rat-trap like that should have been pulled down decades ago. Still, Leonard reached for his cell phone to call the fire department.

But as his car moved further past the house, he saw a child high in a tree, above the edge of the roof. Leonard's heart seized up for a second, pumped ice; the tree looked as rotten as the house, liable to crack and dump the child right into the flaming roof or to the distant ground.

Leonard slammed on his brakes and the cell phone slid from his fingers into the floorboard and was quickly buried under an avalanche of real-estate papers and Yahoo map print-outs and his Samsonite briefcase as the car slewed to a stop.

No time to look for it now. That insane kid had to be thirty feet high in that rotten tree. The sky drifting behind it created the illusion that it was already slowly falling.

He left the car and ran into the yard, pointing at the kid and yelling, "Hey! Come down from there!"

There were more kids in the tree, he saw as he rounded the corner of the house. Three more were on lower branches - every branch that was left on the crumbling hulk, in fact. One more massive limb lay in the yard beside it, a tire swing still attached.

And the yard was full of children, nearly a dozen of them, and Leonard knew that when this was over he could abandon his search for a house to rent in this neighborhood, because he wouldn't want to live here. Nobody in their right mind would.

The kids were all grubby white trash wearing dirty rags, or less; one toddler had only a pair of Pampers that needed changing, and the one chasing him wore nothing but a rash on its ass. The oldest kid there was a girl who was maybe 14, but she was the tiredest-looking 14-year-old Leonard had ever seen. She and several other kids were staring dully at him, like they were wondering if they were in trouble but not really caring because trouble was something that just happened from time to time.

One kid jumped out from behind an old washing machine that was sinking
into the yard and jerked a stick at him, yelling "Bang! Bang!" Leonard glanced at the kid - a crazy-eyed little boy who looked like he'd tried to cut his own hair and nobody had cared enough to correct the damage - who cradled the stick to his stomach and riddled Leonard with imaginary machine gun fire, spraying spit as he made the full-auto noise. It looked so surreal that Leonard met the kid's eyes again, and the kid yelled, "You're dead! AH-AH-AH-AH! KOOSH! KOOSH!" His eyes were wide and bright, Charlie Manson eyes, and he'd pulled half his baby teeth. His one permanent incisor was growing in saw-edged and crooked, steered by d.u.i. DNA.

Leonard stepped around him and yelled, "You kids get out of the tree! Now! Come on!" He looked back at the 14-year-old, who snatched up the rash-bottomed toddler and gave it a smack to slow it down. It went off more slowly, wailing now and waving its arms like a sad bird. "Where are your parents?" Leonard asked the girl.

"Mama's at work," the girl said, wiping her hands on a shirt that just barely advertised Travis Tritt amongst its fade. She was also wearing a pair of black nylon windsprint pants that had probably never been sprinted in, and muddy running that shoes that were worn out but not likely from running, at least none she'd been responsible for.

"Well, your... your damned house is on fire! Is there anybody inside?"

The girl looked around, cow-stupid, then said, "I don't know." And I don't care was implied by a shrug. Leonard wanted to shake her, make her care.

"Maw-maw's in there," one little girl said. She had dirty blonde hair cut straight at her shoulders and in bangs, and she was only maybe eight years old but already looked smarter than her older sister. She was wearing a dress that had probably been red before it faded to pink and had probably been a solid color before someone had spilled bleach on it. "Maw-maw and the baby and the doggies and kitties. And maybe a couple others."


"Upstairs. Up in Maw-Maw's room, maybe. I can show you."

"The house is on fire. You shouldn't go in there," Leonard said. He looked up and noticed a line of molten tar dripping down from the edge of the roof, spattering black scabs on the ground. God, the place was at least four stories high, and had probably been condemned fifty years ago. What kind of idiot would keep their children in a trap like this? Leonard glanced at the 14-year-old and decided that a couple of these kids were probably hers.

"It'll be okay," the little girl said. "I better show you. There's a lotsa rooms in there, you'd
get lost."

"Well, if we get anywhere near the fire, you have to promise me to turn around and run right back out of the house," he said. He could smell the burning now, that choking house-fire stink of old wood and generational dust and insulation and wiring. It'd probably be okay if they went quickly, and the little girl was right; he'd probably never find his way around in there alone. There was a better chance of saving everybody if he had a navigator, and this "Maw-Maw" might not follow a stranger out of the house, anyway. He turned to the 14-year old and said, "There's a cellphone in the passenger side floorboard of my car. Go find it and dial 911 and tell them the house is on fire. You just dial 9-1-1 and hit 'send.' Understand?"

The girl dead-eyed him, open-mouthed, scratching bug bites on her arm.
"UNDERSTAND?" he shouted.

She looked annoyed and nodded, then headed for the car, in as much hurry as a glacier. Her legs brushed together as she walked, the nylon jogging pants swishing with a sound like a needle digging at the end of a record.

"You kids, out of the tree! Now!" Leonard yelled again. Two of the kids were still up there, maybe scared to come down since he was yelling. Other children were running around the yard playing, even though stinking smoke was now blowing down around them. Insane. Idiots. Their house was burning and it didn't even slow them down. Completely insane.

"I'll make 'em get down, mister," a boy said. He was maybe twelve and seemed to have some sense.

"Thank you," Leonard said. "Now, let's go, quick!" he told the little girl, and she ran up the steps into the house. "Don't get too far ahead of me," he said.

"I won't," she said, and Leonard decided that when all this was over he was going to buy her a new dress and some new toys, just for her. This would all feel even more lonely if not for the company of one sensible person, even if that person was only eight. He wanted to just get back in his car and drive away; he couldn't do it because that would be the most irresponsible thing in the world and he'd never be able to live with it, but this was a situation he didn't feel capable of handling.

The house was even more miserable inside. Chunks were missing from the ceiling and wall plaster, exposing bare boards, and there were old wasp and dirt-dauber nests all over the ceiling. They weren't active, though; cobwebs hanging from them testified to that. Everything went creak-creak-creak as they walked, and the house seemed to move, like a ship at sea. And there was so much junk in here, hoarded cartons of worthless nothing, blankets and broken furniture everywhere, little pathways between piles. An indoor junkyard. Leonard feared rats until he noticed all the cats. Dozens of them. The place smelled of their food and piss.

A little girl with long dark hair walked out of a grimy kitchen, holding a beautiful snow-white cat. "The house is on fire! Get outside!" Leonard said. She looked shocked, but started herding cats outside and Leonard supposed that was okay, a good thing even. The front door was only fifteen feet away and the fire was still high up in the house; there was still time. Probably.

"This way," the little blonde said, leading him upstairs. He got glimpses of more rooms heaped with trash and laundry and mattresses and broken toys and furniture. He kicked a two-legged plastic horse off the stairs, and a three-legged couch broke its fall. A charred-looking heater blocked the hallway, glowing red; they were lucky the fire hadn't started down here with that disreputable thing. Its cord was corrugated with teethmarks. A glance into a bathroom showed him an antique tub piled with newspapers, and a cat resting calmly on top of them. The stink of cat pee was like a biological attack.

"Shoo! Out!" Leonard hissed, throwing an empty box at it, and the cat bolted away, down the stairs. The little girl was pushing an old dog out of a room, kicking it, but not out of meanness.

"Is the house going to burn all up, mister?" the little girl asked, heading up the next set of stairs.

"I don't know. Maybe not. Hopefully your sister has called the fire department by now. How much further to your grandmother's room?"

"Not much more, it's right up here."

Leonard followed her through a hallway stacked with boxes full of broken toys and disconnected telephones and coils of cable and maybe all the missing socks in the world. One was scribbled with magic marker into an idiot-looking hand puppet. It looked crazy, hanging broken-necked and smiling over the edge of a box, and he hated it instantly; he hoped it would burn.

"Maw-Maw?" the little girl said, walking into a bedroom. "Maw-Maw, I think maybe the house is on fire, we need to go outside."

Leonard stepped in behind her and looked at the short, chubby lady in the padded chair next to a black and white television. "The house is on fire. Everybody needs to get out, right now!"

"Oh my goodness," the old lady said, wrapping an afghan around her shoulders and picking up things from the table beside her, eyeglasses and pill bottles and - ridiculously - a TV Guide. "Where's the fire? Oh my goodness!"

"On the roof! Now, where's the baby? The little girl said there was a baby."

The lady nodded, blinking hard and staring around the room at nothing. She picked up a small jewelry box. The little girl grabbed a kitten off the bed and it started mewing loudly. "Yes, there's a baby upstairs. Kind of a baby."

"Well, let's get it out of here!"

"Oh my, really, it'd be better to let that baby burn," the old lady said. "It's really a terrible baby. Not really like a baby at all. Better to let it burn, sir."

"What?" Leonard couldn't believe what he'd heard. The lady picked up a little clown figurine and stuffed it into a purse that was becoming increasingly crammed with junk. "WHAT?"

"It really is a bad baby," the little girl said, nodding and hugging the kitten. "Not nice."

"Let the baby burn up. Best thing for it," the old lady said with a sad smile. "It's not made right. Its head and its body. It's really badly deformed. Has a mean spirit, too. Hateful thing. We have to keep it shut away so nobody can see it. Just leave it for the fire."

The lady was reaching out for a plastic unicorn to stuff into her purse, and Leonard slapped it out of her hand in rage. "You'd let a baby run alive?! Just because it's deformed? What kind of a shit are you? Packing away this, this dimestore crap and leaving a baby to burn!? Lady, you're crazy! No way are we leaving that baby! Now, where is it?"

"Upstairs," the little girl said. "Upstairs down the hall. Where all the windows are painted black."

"Katrina, don't you tell anything about that baby. Come on, now, let's go outside." The old lady looked at Leonard with an indulgent little smile. "I'm sorry, sir. You're a very kind man, but believe me, it's better for everyone that the baby be left where it is. It's better that it doesn't grow up. It's awful to look at and it does terrible things. If there's a fire it probably came out of that baby's soul. You just leave it be and come on outside with us."

"Hell with you!" Leonard said. "Go on, get out of the house! I'll get the baby myself. Jesus Christ! You're insane! Get out of here before I... I don't know what I'll do, just get out."

The lady shook her head. "Come on, Katrina. Time to go outside."

The little girl hugged the kitten and said, "Please hurry outside, mister."

"Yeah, yeah, I'll be down, just get your grandmother out of my sight."

They started downstairs, and Leonard started up. The next floor was dark, and hot. He could smell the fire now, a smell that crammed itself into his throat like mildewed cotton and dared him to breathe. He coughed hard enough to gag, but there was no smoke yet, just stink. The fire hadn't made it down this far, at least, but any minute now...

It was dark as hell, and when he glanced into empty rooms he could see that the windows had all been spraypainted black. There were other colors showing through the black, like someone had tried to use spray paint to make homemade stained-glass windows of them at some point, then blacked out their mistakes. The only light was dim, filtering through spots they'd missed and making crazy acid-trip shadows. Idiot inbreds, destroying a house that time had all-but-annihilated anyway! Then wanting to leave a baby to burn!

There was a door at the far end of the hall that was closed, and Leonard guessed that must be the baby's room. How deformed would it be? Even its own family was scared enough of it to want it to burn. The yard was full of ugly kids, so their standards must not be too high; the baby might be a real monstrosity. And Leonard wasn't very good with deformity. He knew it was a stupid fear, but he even avoided carnival sideshows. Carrying a hideously-deformed infant down through this maze of filth and trash wouldn't be easy for him, but letting a baby burn alive... that'd be a lot harder to live with.

The door - scribbled on by kids, layers of paint chipped and gouged - seemed to radiate waves of terror. He didn't want to see what was on the other side.

He could just leave, saying he couldn't find the baby. No one was here, no one would know.

But he'd know.

"Goddamn crazy old lady," he snarled, reaching for the knob. The stink of the fire wouldn't allow him to hesitate much longer. Sweat was streaming from him and his lungs were hurting; the fire was gnawing its way down, and the roof could collapse and flatten this whole place. No time left for fear.

He yanked the door open.

The baby was sitting up on a bed, like a Buddha, calmly watching him with wise, slitted eyes. Its body was small and thin, but its head was oblong, looking like a squashed Easter Island figure, all angles and corners and flattened places. Leonard could barely see it through the black-painted-window gloom, but what disturbed him more than the thing's appearance was its manner; it seemed maybe a year old but was sitting up on its own, as if meditating, and it was calm and passive, ancient in infancy. It blinked slowly at Leonard, focusing on him in a way of which babies were usually incapable. It was silent, interested in what was happening, but not upset.

Leonard didn't want to touch it.

He didn't want it to touch him.

But he was being ridiculous. There wasn't time! He ran to the bed and pulled at the bedspread, wrapping it around the idol-like baby. There, he couldn't even see it now. Maybe it would smother, but probably not. Maybe he could carry it down if he couldn't see it.

The bundle had a repulsive weight and softness, and the bedspread had a weird, sweet chemical smell, alien pheromones that overrode the choking fire smell. Something past the ceiling cracked and knocked on the ceiling, and Leonard ran from the room and down the stairs. Something hammered the ceiling in there again, like something angry in the attic wanting in. No time.

The house was such a ridiculous maze of junk he worried that he'd get lost. It'd probably burn for a week and do less than a hundred dollars worth of damage in the process. Cats and dogs were still in some of the rooms, and Leonard kicked open doors and threw a broken radio through a window, hoping the animals would find their own way out.

He stepped on an old LP record that he didn't remember seeing on the way up and that made him think he was lost, but he kept going. The house was quiet now; he felt sure everyone was outside, and could see kids through the windows, still playing. The baby inside the bedspread was very silent; he worried that it had died, but felt sure it hadn't. It probably wouldn't smother in there. If he looked at it again he might drop it and run from it. Best to keep moving and stop thinking.

There was a loud crash upstairs and the house gave a strong shake, seemed to yaw in its foundation, and he knew the roof had caved in. The place was taking it, though, stronger than it looked. The first floor was coming up; he'd make it.

In seconds he was in the front yard, which was now smoky and full of sparks drifting down like neon snow. He carried the baby a safe distance away and set it down in a patch of weeds and unfolded the blanket around it. It adjusted itself and sat up, blinking calmly. Its skin was so white and translucent that Leonard doubted it had ever felt the sun. Veins squigged around inside like alien tattoos. It seemed content.

The grandmother came over, cradling the rash-assed toddler on one arm and her purse full of trash on the other. The toddler had dirt around its mouth, like it had been feasting. But the grandmother looked more like she'd been the one who'd swallowed something horrible. "You brought it," she sighed.

Leonard looked back at the house, burning more aggressively now. He decided not to say anything to the old woman, looking instead for the fat girl who'd gone for his cell phone. He found her, sitting on the ground, watching the fire. He ran to her. "Did you call for the fire department?"

She made a don't-bother-me face and waved her arm. "Stupid phone's broken."

"Broken? No it's not! Where'd you put it?"

She waved her arm vaguely at the grass and went back to staring into the flames. He saw the cell phone and picked it up; it was heavily cracked, and he wanted to blame the girl but remembered how hard the briefcase had come down in the floorboards on top of it. The phone was dead.

He looked helplessly at the house and could see the flames through some of the windows now. "Did you go to the neighbor's and call?"

"Nobody's home," she said.

"Nobody's ever home here," a voice said, and he turned to see Katrina. "Sorry, mister."

"Well, probably someone's seen the smoke by now," he said.

"Maybe," Katrina said. "Nobody much lives out here. Everybody dies of cancer and stuff."

"You shouldn'ta brought out that damn baby," the fat girl spat.

Leonard walked away to stop himself from slapping her head off. Katrina followed him. "Sorry, mister," she said.

"Not your fault," he said. He still planned to buy her a new dress, but the rest of her family, especially Maw-Maw and that sullen chubby bitch, they could go hang. Maybe he'd get something for the weird baby. He was afraid of it, but also felt sorry for it. It couldn't help its looks. Weirder than the looks, however, was its behavior. It didn't act like a baby.

He looked over to where it was sitting, avoided by all the other children. He walked toward it, drawn there because it looked as alone as he felt. Katrina
followed him, but she stopped about fifteen feet from the baby and grabbed one of Leonard's fingers. Leonard stopped, backed up a few feet and squatted down beside her. The air around the baby felt chilled, despite the heat from the burning house.

"That's Tiki," the little girl whispered. "Mama named it because it looks like a tiki. That's some kind of carved log monster or something that she saw one time when she went to Flora-der. So Mama named it Tiki. It's not a boy or a girl. It won't play with anybody, either."

"Where'd you get it?"

"Mama had it. She can't have any more babies now because Tiki ate up her inside-parts when it was born. It brought them out with it and was chewing on them. Mama said its daddy came out of a wall in an upstairs room one night when she drank too much. She thinks."

"That's crazy," Leonard said. A loud cracking made him look back and he saw a section of wall break itself away from the rest of the building, and a blazing couch fell through, as though the house were giving birth to it. It hit the ground and sprayed sparks and thick soot all around, smoldered toxic smoke. Kids yelled and ran to poke sticks at it, and Leonard told them to get away from there and stay away from the house. They backed away, staring hatefully at spoilsport Leonard.

He huffed and looked back at Katrina, whose eyes were wide and blue. "It'll be okay," he said, and she nodded. He looked at Tiki, who was serenely watching the fire with slit eyes the color of oysters. He wondered if having all those cats in the house had corrupted its genetics; it looked somehow feline. "Doesn't it...Tiki, ever cry?"

Katrina shook her head, no. "Sometimes it sings, though. That's when it's wanting to do something bad."

"Something bad? Like what?"

"It made Jeff slam a car door on his hand like five times, over and over, and one of his fingers come off. And, see Janet?" Katrina pointed at the black-haired girl from the kitchen, who was still hugging the white cat. "Tiki made her get garden shears and cut her tongue down the middle." Katrina stuck out her tongue and ran her finger down its length.

"What? Made her, how?"

"Sang to her. I guess Tiki wanted her to have two tongues. She can't really talk now. And Tiki sang to my big sister Pauline and she went away and nobody knows where she is." Katrina stared at him somberly and whispered, "Maw-Maw has dreams that Pauline's in the river."

Leonard felt cold and looked at the baby. It was watching the burning house with great interest and breathing deeply, apparently enjoying the awful smoke. Tiki looked back at him and kind of smiled, and his brain felt like a rock had been lifted inside it, and bugs underneath were fleeing to all corners.

Should have left it in the house. Should have listened.

A cat, smoking, leapt from one of the upper windows and landed on its head and twitched. Tiki chortled, amused.

"Tiki hates everybody, I think," Katrina whispered. "Nobody loves Tiki, really, and Tiki don't love nobody. Tiki likes to hurt. One time we found Tiki with one of the cats, and Tiki had cut itself and was feeding its blood to the cat, and the cat went crazy. We saw it around for a week, biting at itself and squalling all night. We figure it probably ate enough of itself to die, maybe. Tiki's bad." She looked down and tore at the dying grass. "It's sad, I think. It's why Maw-Maw wanted it to burn all up."

Tiki began to smile wider, definitely smiling now, not a baby smile. It flapped its arms a couple of times, the first baby-like thing it had done yet, and gasped.

Then it began to sing.

It wasn't really a song, just a high, lonely tone, something like winter wind and distant train whistles at midnight and a dying wheeze in a back bedroom, and Leonard wanted to scream and grab the baby and make it stop. He looked at Katrina for help.

But Katrina was laughing and getting up. Joining the other children, all laughing and running for the house.

"What the hell... stop! STOP!" Leonard said, getting up and chasing the kids. He grabbed mute little Janet and threw her down. She dropped the cat but jumped right back up and kept running for the house, gobbly-giggling with a nerveless tongue. "Stop!
You're crazy!"

Kids were pouring into the house. All of them. Leonard looked for Katrina, made a grab for her and ended up with a fistful of bleach-weakened fabric and saw her running laughing into the smoke.

He went back inside but couldn't see anything but shapes of heaped junk, some kitchen tiles. He couldn't breathe. The house was starting to come down, and he could see flames through cracks in the ceiling.

All around, kids were giggling, all around him where he couldn't see.

"Come out! Get out of here now!" he screamed, coughing. They just snickered and he could hear them running. Feet pounded the ceiling overhead.

Tiki was singing, and its brothers and sisters were all playing hide and seek in their burning home.

He couldn't look anymore, and choking and tear-blind he staggered back outside and fell on the grass with Maw-Maw and the 14-year-old girl, who was nursing a bitten hand from where she'd tried to stop one of the children, and they sat and listened to Tiki's song and watched little giggling faces peer out of the windows of blazing rooms until the house fell in, leaving Leonard with a handful of faded rag and a song that would never leave his ears.



Scaring people in a small haunted house

One of my all-time-most-admired humans, Andrew Vachss, once said:

Writing short stories is like fighting in a real small ring: whatever
your style, you have to get busy quick. It's easier to make mistakes,
and it costs more if you do.

Short stories have fallen out of favor in today's shallow world full of fucking idiots, but I've always had a love of them that's pretty close to obsession. I've got reams of anthologies lining the walls of my house, and the other day I started wondering what I might anthologize if I edited one myself. Unfortunately a lot of the ones I came up with aren't online so you'll have to seek out an honest-to-god book, which is way-better anyway. I fucking hate e-books (as the moron who tried to sell me a "Nook" in a Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago found out; it didn't descend into a real scrap or anything, but I did have to wonder why this dumbass was so aggressively promoting a product that stood to put her out of business since she works in a brick-and-mortar bookstore), so I only link to online versions because they're free. You're much better off with paper books, though, which will survive the EMP that is surely somewhere in our future. Then you can laugh heartily at the hapless bastard holding the doorstop that used to be his Kindle and wave your dog-eared copy of The Haunting of Hill House at his sad ass. Anyway, the stories I'm listing here are really great so you should seek them out in whatever format you can find them in... even the crappy, short-sighted, vastly-inferior e-formats that will certainly destroy our economy, spike our unemployment, and lead us into a desperate Mad Max-ian future of poverty and cannibalism. And for all you hippie fools who think e-books "save trees," stop congratulating yourself - all you're doing is devaluing a renewable resource so they can bulldoze the land where the trees were and build another fucking Starbucks. I want to fist-fight you for your small-thinking stupidity and blinky-eyed idealism, dipshit, thou!

Wow, this post went all crazy-person ranty and hostile quicker than usual. Cool! I like it when I can do that.

Of course, you can also patronize your local library. Those are cool, too.

Anyway, in no particular order:

"The Pear-Shaped Man" by George R. R. Martin - An artist moves into a new apartment and becomes obsessed with the corpulent, unclean weirdo who lives in a basement apartment. He has a rancid buttery smell, lives on Coke and Cheez Doodles, and stares at her a lot, smiling wet smiles and inviting her into his apartment to show her his "things." He's creepy and invades her life with a strange unidentifiable menace. You may feel like you should laugh when she finds Cheez Doodles in her panty drawer, but you probably won't. This story makes a hell of an impression and makes me wish Martin would focus more on horror than sci-fi, because he's got a gift for the disturbing. Read it and you'll start spotting pear-shaped men everywhere. Highly recommended.

Available in actual paper here for those who still have pride.

"The Listener" - Algernon Blackwood. A guy finally finds an apartment he can afford, but soon finds that the place is pretty disagreeable. There's a feeling to it that upsets him and he thinks he's being watched by something unseen. After several unsettling events, he finds out something really disturbing about a former tenant upstairs from him. This one chills you with atmosphere so dark it's suffocating.

There was a chance match in my pyjamas' pocket, and I struck it on the wall. The room was utterly empty. It held not even a shadow. I went quickly down to bed, cursing my wretched nerves and my foolish, vivid dreams. But as soon as ever I was asleep again, the same uncouth figure of a man crept back to my bedside, and bending over me with his immense head close to my ear, whispered repeatedly in my dreams, "I want your body; I want its covering. I'm waiting for it, and listening always." Words scarcely less foolish than the dream.

But I wonder what that queer odour was up in the square room. I noticed it again, and stronger than ever before, and it seemed to be also in my bedroom when I woke this morning.


"The Bus" - Shirley Jackson. Reading this short story will make you feel like you've just woken up from a very bad nightmare. It's surreal and the meaning is rather obscure but it'll stick in your head and bother you. An old lady (who may be going senile) is confused on a bus ride and doesn't find much sympathy from anyone around her. She's dropped off the bus in a small, unfamiliar town in the middle of the night and doesn't know what to do. She's given a room in which she encounters part of her past... and finds it wants no more to do with her than the present. Dark, dark, dark.

Far too much of Shirley Jackson's stuff is unjustifiably out of print, but you can find this story and some other essential stuff here - it's kinda pricey but more than worth it, because it also has The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived In The Castle, and a lot of other short stories, including the classic "The Lottery" and other crawling weirdnesses like "The Tooth" and "Charles" and the unbelievably-sinister "The Summer People."

"Gas Station Carnivals" - Thomas Ligotti. Memories of childhood road-trips and out-of-the-way gas-stations (always encountered at dusk) that had small carnivals beside them, in which extremely strange shows were being enacted. Ligotti somehow reaches inside your head and makes you think "Yeah, I remember those, too..." when mentioning things you've never heard of before. His stuff is always like some half-remembered dream, and this one works very well on that level.

"The Clown Puppet" - Thomas Ligotti. An unbalanced shopkeeper (who watches over a store on an obscure street in the middle of the night, where he keeps all the lights out) is troubled by "visits" from a weird puppet that sometimes appears on the edge of his vision and subjects him to all sorts of "contemptible nonsense." Very dark and dreamlike and crazy. Brilliant.

Igor's excellent post
will clue you in on where to find Ligotti's stuff, all of which is recommended.

"Lot No. 249"
- Arthur Conan Doyle. Classic mummy horror in which a student begins to suspect that a classmate's experimentations with an ancient Egyptian scroll has brought a mummy he keeps in his dorm room back to life. The classmate has apparently been using the mummy as an agent of revenge against anyone who's wronged him, and it's up to the student to stop his friend's madness. Doyle is effectively restrained, suggesting far more than he shows and keeping the horror in the shadows or behind locked doors, making your mind fill in all the gruesomest blanks... and it works incredibly well. Tres creepy.

"The Room In The Tower"
- E. F. Benson. A man keeps having a reoccurring dream about visiting an estate and being given a room in a tower, which fills him with overwhelming dread. When the dream comes true, it's more nightmarish than he'd even dreamed. Atmosphere to burn and a pervasive sense of threatening fate, and you can't beat that last line. Chilling story that sent me on a rampage to find everything I could by E. F. Benson. "Caterpillars" is also recommended and just plain nasty.

"The Loved Dead" - C. M. Eddy. Harrowing and ahead-of-its-time nasty narrative of a necrophile, which actually saved Weird Tales from folding in 1924. The extreme morbidity of the story (which was either ghost-written by H. P. Lovecraft or heavily revised by him for his friend C. M. Eddy) upset the public enough to start boycotts, which gave the magazine a publicity uptick due to the controversy. The narrator is a very sick young man with a psychotic attraction to corpses, leading him to work in a morgue (until he's fired for being discovered sleeping on a slab with a naked cadaver in his arms). When people don't die fast enough to feed his overwhelming compulsion, he starts stalking the populace with a razor... One of the darkest and most twisted stories of the pulp era, a must-read.

This and other Lovecraft revisions available in this excellent book, without which your Lovecraft library isn't complete.

"The Hound" - H. P. Lovecraft. This isn't one of Lovecraft's most-favored stories, but the extreme morbidity of it works for me. The narrator and his sick-minded friend revel in the darkest things they can find, robbing graves for "trophies" (including mummified heads of children) which they keep in an underground charnel house and gloat over. Our ghoulish heroes dig up the horribly-gnawed corpse of a wizard and steal his amulet, which makes them the target of horrifying supernatural vengeance. Lovecraft's had better craftsmanship, but I like this one because it comes across as something you probably shouldn't be reading, and that's a great thing in a horror story.

"The Screaming Skull"
- F. Marion Crawford. A man comes into possession of a skull that screams and won't stay where he put it, and it does other disturbing things, because of the terrible thing that happened to its owner. Crawford's stuff is always great. "The Upper Berth" - with its ship's stateroom full of perpetual dampness and an occupied-by-something bed - is also crucial.

"Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad" - M. R. James. Okay, I'm not being very original including this one, because it's in damn near every horror anthology ever published, but there's a reason for that - it really is that good. All of James's stuff is killer (I'm also very partial to "The Ash Tree" with its gruesome monsters and "The Tractate Midoth" with its library patron with cobwebbed eyes) but this tale of a guy finding a old whistle in some ancient ruins and then making the mistake of blowing it... man, that's spooky.

"In The Pines" - Karl Edward Wagner. The world is a horrible place just because this man's work is out of print. That's such a wrong thing that I can't even find angry enough words to express my feelings about it, so you're going to have to spend some money or do some heavy searching to find this story, but it just might be worth it. An unhappy husband staying at a mountain cabin with his wife becomes obsessed by a woman in a painting he finds in the basement, and... his obsession doesn't end well. I like all Wagner's stuff. "River Of Night's Dreaming" is also incredibly creepy and surreal. Library of America needs to give this guy a volume of his horror stuff. I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

"The Yellow Sign"
by Robert W. Chambers. Gets creepier every time you read it, until you start actually fearing for your soul. A forbidden play, "The King In Yellow," has a terrible influence on all who read it, and the artist in this story -- who's troubled by a grave-worm-like man with a puffy face and a tendency to lose fingers easily -- is no exception. Scary-ass, poetically-written, works on more than one level, and hangs with you.

"The Repairer of Reputations"
- Robert W. Chambers. In a future (1920's) America, which has repelled an invasion by Germany and set up suicide chambers in every town for any who want to kill themselves, a mentally ill narrator conspires with a maimed, earless mastermind who's at constant war with his cat. The world has been poisoned by an evil book called "The King In Yellow" and the narrator and his cohorts plan an apocalyptic coup de'etat that will put the earth under the mythical king's rule... but it's soon clear that the narrator is an insane megalomaniac and his perceptions cannot be trusted (or, at least, that's what we must hope). Extremely weird, paranoiac tale seething with hints of a far more frightening story under the surface which isn't being told. Relentlessly dark and powerful and off-kilter nightmare-logic tale that will make you depressed that Chambers was a lazy, silly bastard who only had two really amazing stories in him.

"The Swords" - Robert Aickman. Another guy who's unjustifiably out of print, and certain to be loved by anyone who's into Thomas Ligotti, because they dabble in the same weird waters. Aickman's stuff is so odd and its meanings so obscure, and there's still a lot I haven't read yet, so I had a hard time picking which story I'd go with. But this nightmarish tale of a timid young salesman who becomes obsessed with a girl from a carnival show, who lets people stab swords into her with no apparent injury, is a standout. When he pays for a private audience (where he can do more than just stab her), he learns that there's really something horrifyingly wrong with her. It's like something you'd dream on a very bad, feverish night. "The Stains" and "The Inner Room" are also masterpieces.

When searching for Aickman's stuff, you're best-off ordering them from Amazon.uk. You'll probably save a bit of money, even with the shipping.

"The Yellow Wallpaper"
- Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Another commonly-anthologized-for-good-reason tale, this one an unnerving exploration of insanity manifested in a wallpaper pattern and a woman who creeps behind it. This is unique and powerful.

"The Companion" - Ramsey Campbell. Another guy who's worth checking out if you like Ligotti or Aickman, this is a really weird off-kilter-point-of-view story about a haunted, nervous loser who spends his vacations going to run-down fun-fairs. At one disappointing, almost-abandoned seaside carnival, he decides to ride the Ghost Train, and it's a bad move. Moody story displays Campbell's skill at getting special effects to work on paper; he can almost make you jump just reading about a stuffed bunny.

Available in paper here.

"Mujina" - Lafcadio Hearn. Super-short-short with an eerie shocker ending that I'm not even going to describe because it won't take you more than three minutes to read it if you click the link.

And there are tons of other horror short stories I'm crazy about, but that'd be the start of an anthology if I was putting one out. Many of those are already widely-anthologized so I'm not being all that original, just telling you stuff that I think is worth your time.


Sometimes A-Feared, Sometimes Not.

Those who write, direct, and act, do; those who don’t, talk shit about those who do. This here is the latter.

The Passage (2010) – Anyone who comes to The Passage expecting a vampire novel (as I did, thanks to NPR) probably gets disappointed, because it's not – not in the traditional way, and not within the world the novel creates, either. Yes, the "virals" in the book subsist on blood, shun the light, and may even be immortal, but that's about it as far as the vampire trappings go. This lack of tradition could be a real boon – after all, who needs another bloodsucking-by-the-numbers? – but the book doesn't focus on the virals enough to get any mileage out of them. And that, quite simply, is the problem: The Passage doesn't focus on the virals enough. Some of this lack of focus seems to come from the Jaws phenomenon run amok. You know how the mechanical problems with the fake sharks during the making of Jaws forced Spielberg not to show the shark in the movie as much as he intended, and how the tension resulting from the presence of a mostly unseen killer is the true reason for the film’s legendary status? I got the distinct impression while reading The Passage that Cronin went into writing this novel with that less-seen = scarier tactic firmly in mind and it got away from him. Not seeing the virals is sound strategy, but we DO need to see them or brush up close to them often and opportunely enough for us to know what we need to be afraid of, and this just does not happen. In addition to this bungled strategy, the book is also woefully unbalanced. It's far more preoccupied with the story's surviving humans and their scary new world, which is unfortunate because the pre-apocalyptic first third of the book is infinitely more compelling than the post-apocalyptic latter two-thirds, meaning you spend 500-plus pages wandering the ruined western U.S. with a colony of survivors waiting for a payoff that never comes, precisely because said payoff (such as it is) happened in the first 200 or so pages. Even when the survivors encounter virals, the scenes happen so fast they seem to end before they really get going, and this is true even of longer battle-type sequences, like the one in post-virus Vegas; this moment could have been a blockbuster, a fat and juicy, viral-rich payoff toward which much of the story could have been building, but instead, somehow, it just goes “poof.” The non-viral scenes, on the other hand, are allowed to stretch out and breathe for page after page, full of ultimately pointless character development and hackneyed, Rambo VI-style warrior dialogue. Goofy as it sounds, it's almost like Cronin himself is scared of the virals, which robs us of our chance to be affected by them at all, and that, again, is a shame, because if the bloated latter part of the book were closer to the terrific first third, I’d be writing a much different review right now.

Plus, The Passage tries a stylistic flourish that fails as horribly as a doughy Halo kid trying his sweaty hand at stand-up comedy: it tries awful hard to create a new interjection – “Flyers!” – for its post-apocalyptic world, without once so much as hinting at the origin or relevance of this goddamned word. I think I encountered it four or five times before I even recognized its role in the sentence AS an interjection, after which I became confused and then irritated beyond reason at its usage ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

Psycho (1998) – This reputed shot-for-shot remake languished in my Netflix queue for years until I was finally compelled to bump it up to the top. I’d heard / read nothing but awful things about Psycho redux, but guess what? I liked it. Against all odds, I liked it. Or maybe it’s not so surprising. Consider the facts: (1) I generally like Gus Van Sant, the galactically pretentious Elephant not withstanding; (2) I like Vince Vaughn in just about anything; (3) I think Anne Heche is a talentless, star-fucking, faux-lesbo, climber clinghound……so it was AWESOME seeing her get hacked on in color; (4) I like Viggo Mortenson in just about anything; (5) I like William H. Macy in just about anything; (6) I like scary movies. Maybe what’s against all odds is that this movie is scary, or at the very least creepy, or at the very, very least an exercise in look-how-big-MY-balls are that turns out not to be awful. I agree with Roger Ebert that the vermin-like Jeremy Davies would have made a slimier-looking and more Perkinsian Norman Bates 2.0, but for me Vaughn pulls it off.

Something about his wide eyes, his freak-show height, his generally sweaty- or cold-and-clammy-looking pallor, and his punctuation of every awkward sentence with a genuinely nervous little laugh made my skin crawl. Then there’s the matter of that turtleneck (a nod to Tony, no doubt), which PROVED his insanity, since no sane 6’6” man would don a second skin that stretches what does not need stretching. One big bumble, though, is the supposed sound of masturbating added to the voyeur scene early on (woman in bathroom, Norman on other side of wall peeking through hole). Even as a mostly asexual not-yet-ten-year-old, I remember seeing that scene in the original – sans squirty-sucky sound – and thinking, “Ooh-wee, that’s dirty and he shouldn’t be doing it.” Like most Hitchcock, the scene is subtle and suggestive and unnerving; the Van Sant version resembles a Naked Gun-style joke, using a sound so stereotypical it’s like an autoerotic Wilhelm scream. Which reminds me: since nothing on my body has ever made anything close to that sound, is it possible I’ve been doing it WRONG for 30 years? (If so, I don’t want to be right. Rimshot!)

Hell House (1971) – Well, it’s my own fault. I was scouring the card catalog and Amazon’s used wares for scary books, stumbled upon this one, and fell for its jacket copy, which essentially calls Hell House the template for haunted-house lit. Maybe – I’d think Poe or Shirley Jackson should get that honor – but if true, it goes to show that “template” need not mean “scary” or “good” or even “worthy of being called a ‘template.’” You know how watching a classic ‘50s black-and-white “horror” movie gives you that feeling of “Man, this ain’t scary, but it’s fun and I can totally see how it was groundbreaking / noteworthy at the time?” Yeah, this book is nothing like that. It’s just boring. Despite the righteous cover art (MAN, do I wish ol' Cloaky Skull was in this book) and a few scenes that work (especially the figure rising beneath the sheet on Florence’s bed), most of it is tepid build up and too-little follow-through. And the end just flat pissed me off, mainly because it squandered the potential created by the Reversor and all its electromagnetic hugger-mugger. So the secret to Hell House is just an old corpse with some ambiguous power to……well, to do WHAT, exactly? Look like a really tall man? Incite lesbian tendencies? (Fine by me, this one.) Inhabit cats? Toss forks? Pretend to have a son? Good thing it’s not a long book, because if it was, I’d have done something I rarely do in this situation: give up. (Side note: after I got the book, I put its movie adaptation, The Legend of Hell House, in my Netflix queue, and its presence there lasted until the day I finished reading.)

Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009) – I consider myself a Halloween OG. I saw the original I and II way too early as age-appropriateness goes, and I also read each movie’s novel adaptations several times. Michael Myers and his mute unstoppability (along with that peerless theme music) scared the shit out of me, and even now, long past the point of truly being scared by these films, I find it nearly impossible to pass them by when they pop up on AMC or IFC. All this idol worship usually spells doom for remakes, but nothing could be further from the truth for what Rob Zombie’s done. Bottom line: in my opinion, both Zombie remakes kick an enormous amount of ass, accomplishing something very, very tricky in the process, and that’s remaining true to and augmenting the spirit of the originals even as they obviously don’t try to follow the originals closely (or at all, in the case of II). I believe this M.O. is borne out of necessity – simply put, the original Halloween is a masterpiece of everything it attempts to do and most especially mood, which surely must be the hardest thing to get right. When the spooky-as-fuck ambience of the original stems from an innovation brought on by inadequate funds, inadequate technology, and the fact that no one’s ever really made a movie like this before, how could a remake with (I imagine) 10 times the budget and 100 times the special-effects arsenal AND a groundwork-laying collective memory created by the original’s status as a cultural touchstone hope to approximate the initial magic? The answer, for me, is that it creates its own magic. I don’t really know how to explain why they’re able to create this magic, because, as I say about the Psycho remake above, a whole bunch goes against it. The bigger budget as manifest on screen; the jumpy, quick-cut editing; the bludgeoning musical score; the enhanced violence and gore, so different from the relatively bloodless original it’s like steroids are now involved; the attempted explication of that which, in the original, is approached in a much more sidelong fashion (i.e., Michael’s past); the very concept of remakes, especially with a film that’s one of my longtime favorites – all of this should turn me against the movie, and much of it does turn me against other modern movies. Yet Zombie’s remakes are fantastic. They’re MASSIVE. It may well be that the key is the newer incarnation of Michael. Importantly, in the novel adaptations of the original films, the inner-book movie stills (remember those? Ah!) refer to Michael as “The Shape,” and that’s an apt name for how he exists and moves in the films; the new Michael, though, is a grotty behemoth who’s just as devoid of emotive spark but who moves infinitely more quickly and malevolently (without running, which is kind of rad). He also kills several victims in both movies by repeatedly slamming their bodies into hard surfaces or by stabbing them with what looks like superhuman ferocity, a stark contrast to the old Mike’s cool, vicious stab, typically one per customer. Again, this shouldn’t work, but it does. For example: I watched the new Halloween II again two nights ago, and, throughout the film, my skin crawled, and I stayed primally worried about the empty space behind me (the darkened kitchen, the darkened hallway, the window-blinds I forgot to close). I crave movies (and books, and music) that prompt that reaction, and there just aren't enough of them, goddammit. Props to Rob Z. for getting it so right, and also for casting his walking aphrodisiac of a wife in both movies.


Shining Vs. Shining

I recently re-watched both film versions of Stephen King's The Shining, so in honor of Halloween, here's two reviews, comparing strengths and weaknesses.

Shining, The (C, 1980) Frustrating masterpiece didn't please Stephen King and it's easy to see why; Kubrick's own vision edged out King's and Kubrick doesn't seem to understand the book. But Kubrick's vision is still fascinating and results in some of the scariest scenes ever filmed. It's relentless and the atmosphere is tense and oppressive throughout. But there are some definite flaws, and the biggest is also the film's greatest strength: Jack Nicholson. Nicholson is sinister and terrifying in general (in fact, that's his entire range, even in straight roles) so when he gets to cut loose as a maniac, atomic magic happens. But in this adaptation he's hostile and crazy right from the start, so there's nowhere for him to go with it, and the idea of the hotel as a corrupting influence is negated. He seems itching to chop up his wife and kid during the drive up (notice how annoyed he seems when they even talk to him). This does make for some tension (the scene where he "reassures" his son that he'd never hurt him just oozes menace) but it guts the whole point of the story, since the hotel's no longer a major change-agent. Shelly Duval's acting is just awful whenever she's not terrified. She sounds like she's reading lines off a card and her character is such a dumb, awkward clod that it seems unavoidable that'd she'd become the target of domestic violence when paired with a guy like Nicholson; it's bunny and wolf. Kubrick seems to want to make her the target for the audience's animosity as well, dressing her like a Raggedy Ann doll and having her seem in a constant state of flinch. Kubrick may be intentionally inviting the audience to sympathize with Nicholson's predatory nature as a way of disturbing you at finding that in yourself. With her Margaret Keene-painting eyes and wide mouth she does do an incredible job of conveying sheer bovine terror, though, and so she's brilliant in those scenes. Iconic, even, since the second-most-familiar still from the film (after Jack's face grinning through a splintered door) is Shelly screaming as an axe crashes through the wall. Kubrick is probably most at fault for her weakness in the "normal" scenes; he reportedly treated her so badly on the set that he probably sucked all the confidence out of her, and there's no excuse for a director so notorious for multiple-takes letting those clumsy scenes go through. Scatman Crothers -- a guy I'm always happy to see -- is great as Dick Halloran, but the importance of his character is all but negated here; he's basically just a Snowcat delivery system. In fact, the whole importance of the "shining" power is no longer a real factor in Kubrick's story, just an excuse for extra spook-show scenes rather than a driving force behind the violence -- that doesn't seem to come from the hotel, but is something Nicholson brought with him. The creepy scenes are some of the most powerful ever filmed, though (the bathtub woman is almost unbearably nightmarish, the little ghost girls, the weirdness of the bear costume scene, Nicholson's catatonic states -- his face is genetically engineered for evil and he has a hard time doing anything else) and there are other bits of brilliant filmmaking (especially the tracking shots of Danny riding the Big Wheel down the hallways, making a symphony of carpet and hardwood). Even though it's not a faithful adaptation and kind of ruins some of King's points, it's good that Kubrick went off the reservation, because even though this is flawed it's a major classic nonetheless, and gets better with multiple viewings.

The very-severe original trailer (some of the creepiest music ever) :

This blowjob-bear scene seems to really freak people out for some reason:

Shining, The (C, 1977) Three-night miniseries version of Stephen King's horror classic. King was never happy with Kubrick's version so when the TV miniseries of The Stand got a good response, King got director Mick Garris to do this one. King scripted so it's much more faithful to the book, which is good in a way because it's a great book, but also has drawbacks, such as King's sweetness and corniness creeping in and weakening the horror, and a more conventional approach robs some power from the scares. Kubrick's version is easily the superior film (Garris is a good workman director but is no visionary), but this a truer adaptation. The cast is good; Steven Weber from the sitcom Wings is Jack, Rebecca DeMornay is Wendy, Courtland Mead is Danny, and the great Melvin VanPeebles is Dick Halloran. Weber is not quite as scary because he's not nearly as sinister as Jack Nicholson (but it's pretty unfair to expect any other human to be as sinister as Nicholson, since "sinister" is really all Nicholson can do), but at least he does transform from a good guy into an evil one, and the contrast packs in some power. Weber does a great job handling the changeover, from believably-lovable to believably-homicidal. The kid here is a better actor than Kubrick's, and has more to do, but they gave him a bowl haircut that makes him look too goofy. And DeMornay is nowhere near as annoying as Duval, but never seems as scared or threatened, either; she looks like she could go toe-to-toe with Weber and do him some damage, while Duval didn't even know how to hold a baseball bat. There's not nearly as much atmosphere, and the Overlook never really seems as isolated, and some of the scary bits are pretty lame. The topiary animals (which I thought sucked in the book as well) don't work, and too many ghosts disappear in puffs of smokiness, and the heavily-made-up party guests just look ... heavily made up. The bathtub woman isn't bad, though, and is one of the scarier done-for-TV makeup jobs I've seen. Stephen King's cameo (as leader of the Gage Creed orchestra - a Pet Sematary in-joke) is pretty Rocky Horror looking. Overall, though, this version does work and it's well-worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of the book (and if you're not, that probably just means you haven't read it).

Whole thing starts here:

Bathtub woman

Hilarious Conan interview with the kid, who seems to be on crank:

This was pretty damn funny... :)

Redone with Legos:


Water You Willing to Recycle? (Happy Blog Action Day!)

The topic of the day for Blog Action Day is WATER.

So, being that we're assholes here - or at least, I am - here's a nifty recycling tip, inspired by the ever-brilliant David Yow...

You can distill fresh drinking water from your own urine, simply by using this simple solar still. It's the same way that rain is made. From your urine, I mean. Oh, and the distillation process is the same.

Whatever Happened to Proofreading?

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled “Rich Whitey” on electronic-voting machines in 23 wards — “about half in predominantly African-American areas.” The error only occurs on screens voters would see when they are reviewing their choices (Whitney’s name appears correctly on the initial screens), but officials say the error cannot be corrected before election day.

Full story here.


A few more horror movie reviews...

... just to keep the Halloween thing rollin' until I come up with something more substantial. These are some out of the archive, but they should be new to ya'll, so, here goes!


Baby, The (C, 1973) A social worker named Ann gets herself assigned to a very strange case; a family with a guy in his 20's who's been psychologically stunted so he's remained in an infant state his whole life. Baby's mother (Ruth Roman) is bitter towards men because her husband left her, and her two daughters are strange both are slutty, cold, and sadistic. Ann becomes obsessed with trying to make Baby show some development, but when he does, his sisters shock him with a cattle prod to discourage any such activity. They also sexually abuse him (offscreen). Ann figures out what's happening, so Ruth and her daughters get her reassigned. Ann plans to take them to court, so they decide they're going to have to kill her. She escapes and takes Baby with her, intending to make him into a grown up. This leads to violence and one heck of a twisted twist ending. Uniquely weird movie, well- directed by Ted Post (whose eclectic resume also includes Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.)

Whole movie starts here:

Black Belly of the Tarantula (C, 1971) aka La Tarantola dal ventre nero A psycho killer paralyzes women with injections of venom before carving them up while they watch (in the method used by wasps, which paralyze tarantulas and plant their larvae in their bodies, which then eat the tarantula alive). Police on the case investigate acupuncturists (because of the needles the killer uses) and drug -smuggling entomologists, and a bunch of other false leads and red herrings, while the killings continue. The gore's pretty cheap, obvious, and not very effective, but one corpse does end up filling a garbage bag. The cast includes three James Bond movie babes (Barbara Bach, Barbara Bouchet, and Claudine Auger) and the score is a very uncharacteristic Ennio Morricone job. Even though the premise is sicker than usual, it's still a rather average giallo film, stylish and competently done enough to keep from disappointing, but not powerful enough to really wow you.

Bloody Birthday (C, 1981) aka Creepers, Creeps. It's Village of the Damned through a low budget 80's horror filter, from the director of Starship Invasions. Three kids sharing the same birthday are all evil, due to the fact that Saturn the planet that's supposed to govern emotion was being eclipsed when they were born. Their acts range from the naughty (watching an older sister dance topless in front of her Eric Estrada poster while listening to some generic rock that steals the riff from Foreigner's "Hot Blooded") to the homicidal (murdering one of them's dad -- the sheriff -- with a baseball bat). To celebrate their 10th birthday they go on a killing spree, shooting a bunch of citizens with a stolen pistol, and other such acts of mayhem. One other kid and his older sister figure out what the pathological prepubescents are up to, but that only makes them targets. It's pretty much plotless and artless and the gore is mild, but it's still different enough to be surprisingly engaging, and the acting is a lot better than it has any right to be, especially on the part of the evil kids. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be pretty fun and engaging video junk food.

Castle of the Creeping Flesh (C, 1967) aka Im SchloƟ der blutigen Begierde , Castle of Bloody Lust, Castle of Lust, Castle of Unholy Desires, In The Castle of Bloody Lust. Boy, is this embarrassing to watch. Some extremely silly people leave an even sillier party to go to a nearby castle. They engage in some awful dubbed banter and make goofy faces in close up. Much of the other footage seems to have been shot by a midget cameraman, since it's of people and horses from the knees down. They start another silly party in which a woman jumps around on the table shouting "Yi! Yi! Yi!" One girl flees the humiliating to witness festivities, and the others ride out to find her and end up at Howard Vernon's notorious castle, where they eat supper... erotically. In one room there are wax replicas depicting a gang rape. Elsewhere in the castle, Vernon and his assistant perform gory organ transplant surgeries (real open -heart surgery footage they got somewhere, shown at great length and in close up) to try to revive Vernon's daughter. This all really doesn't go much of anywhere but does have that Euro horror atmosphere, and it's good for laughs. Even the very gory surgery footage is somewhat funny, because you can see the surgeons have blue sleeves, but when they show the actors, their gowns are white. The movie's integrity is also compromised by one of the worst musical scores possible right from the opening, where the title "Castle of the Creeping Flesh" is backed with this breezy, jazzy number that makes you feel like you should be pushing a shopping cart, it sets the wrong mood. And sometimes you get the feeling that the director (Adrian Hoven, hiding behind the name Percy G. Parker) had a lot of contempt for these actors and wanted to make them look as silly as possible, from idiotic staring to a conga line to a woman spontaneously flinging off her clothes for no reason. Then the person who wrote the dubbed dialogue finished the job. But, how could you not have contempt for these actors most of them are Jess Franco movie regulars.

Collingswood Story, The (C, 2002) This movie is so low budget that you can figure if they already owned the camera and got volunteer work from the actors, they probably literally made money on the first DVD sold... but (and this is unusual for these cheapies, which honestly usually aren't so hot) this one deserves to make a lot of bucks and sell a lot of DVDs, because it's very creepy, true to its concept, and the acting is great. When his girlfriend moves away to Collingswood, New Jersey to go to college, a guy named John buys her a phone cam for her computer so they can stay in touch. The movie consists of their calls to each other and various other phone cam weirdoes. At first the movie's mostly concerned with the strained, awkward distance relationship, but then they get involved with a creepy cam psychic who tells them that people were killed in cult rituals in the house where Rebecca is living, up in the attic. Unluckily for all involved, Rebecca is a brave young lady, has a laptop, and a hundred foot phone cord... It's an obvious variant on The Blair Witch Project but manages to hold its own and build some serious intensity, leading to a legitimately scary climax that is both slightly disappointing (it doesn't make complete sense) and perfect for the story (are things as creepy when they do make complete sense?) You'll have to seek this unique -format little movie out through its website (www.collingswoodstory.com) and deal with Paypal to order it (I'm not fond of the Paypal experience, sorry) but it's worth the hassle, unless you're one of those people who absolutely hated Blair Witch Project... and maybe even then, since these actors are a little more likeable and some have found this to be scarier (I wouldn't go that far, but Blair Witch really worked for me; this worked too, though). It also does a great job tapping into your voyeuristic instincts, so even though the movie is mostly all talk (My Scary Ass Dinner With Andre, sorta), it keeps your interest.

Deadly Spawn
(C, 1983) aka Return of the Alien's Deadly Spawn, The Alien's Deadly Spawn, Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn Toothy aliens from outer space come to Earth on a meteorite and start a carnivorous rampage in a family's basement, chewing people up in the goriest way possible the effects are pretty damn good and there's a whole lot of blood flying around. The family with the bloodsoaked basement has a horror obsessed monster kid that most people who'd watch this can relate to. Since he's always reading Famous Monsters, watching horror movies, and trying to scare people with masks and stuff, he has helpful ideas about how to deal with the creatures. Soon the monsters are all over the house, presiding over an orgy of really creative carnage, and the survivors are running out of places to hide. The monsters come in a variety of sizes, from small larvae to three headed beasts the size of a hippo. And it doesn't end there... The movie is very cheap but the acting is okay and the nonstop effects range from impressive to bad but in a fun way puppetry. Overall, there is almost no way that any gore -loving monster fan could do anything but love this. It manages to be funny and nightmarish at the same time, and never stops walloping you with budget- necessitated creativity.

Dead Waters (C, 1994) aka Dark Waters Highly stylish but confusing Argento esque Italian horror in which a girl named Elizabeth travels to a convent where weird, violent things are happening. Nuns flagellate themselves in half flooded subterranean cathedral ruins while a hooded figure stabs a girl to death. Then our traveling girl takes a boat trip with an unbalanced captain and a truly creepy lunatic who eats disgusting stuff (raw octopus, I think - and you thought OldBoy invented that). When she arrives at the island convent, she tries to find out why her father had been sending money to the place, and why she's expected to continue making payments now that he's dead. There are blind nuns sniffing around and strange paintings. It turns out Elizabeth was born on the island and spent the first seven years of her life there, but her memories of the place have somehow been repressed. As she tries to find out why, she keeps having disturbing visions and crazy things keep happening. The nuns keep making images of a demonic beast (probably trying to raise it) and block her efforts to learn the truth about her past. The narrative structure of this is confounding, but what it lacks in a coherent story to follow it makes up for in nightmarishness and scary images and atmosphere; blank eyed nuns, leaky chapels, candles, gore, paintings of Chthonic monsters, dim underground passages, spooky little girls... all unrelenting presented in a format like that of a schizophrenic mind. Even though it's not easy to follow it's way creepy and should be sought out by fans of scary stuff. It wasn't easy to get for a while (I had to go to Facets online to get a copy) but then NoShame put out a better DVD, which included a stone amulet. That's currently hanging over the door to my TV room...

Deathdream (C, 1974) aka Dead of Night, The Night Andy Came Home, Night Walk, The Veteran, Whispers It's hard to believe that the director of Porkys and A Christmas Story had such a morbid, creepy horror film in him, but here it is, and it's a classic. A young man named Andy is killed in Vietnam, but his mother still holds him to a promise he made to come home... so he does, as a cold, emotionally dead zombie. And soon his parents aren't particularly happy to have him back, because he starts doing things like strangling the dog and killing people for their blood, which he injects into his veins to keep himself from rotting. Things soon go from bad to worse for Andy and his family... This all could be used as a metaphor for the guys who came back from 'Nam with their emotions burned out by post traumatic stress and addicted to drugs, but for the most part it's just concerned with being a very creepy movie that's best viewed late at night. This features some of Tom Savini's earliest special effects work.

Death Game (C, 1977) aka The Seducers, Mr. Manning's Weekend A happily -married man named George (believe me, you will not have a chance to not know his name is George) lets a couple of young ladies (Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp) into his house during a rainstorm, under the premise of using the phone. They finagle their way into hanging out there while supposedly waiting for a friend to pick them up. They're a flirty couple of girls and are soon aggressively seducing him and luring him into the hot tub. They're very sinister and psychotic, though, and start taking over his house and amusing themselves by making him uncomfortable. They say his name too much, borrow clothes, eat all his food, use appalling table manners, make a big mess, act like giggling smartasses, mess with his prize stereo, and resist all attempts to make them leave. When he tries to throw them out, they threaten to get him arrested because they say they're underage. Then they get crazier and more violent and end up tying him to a bed, trashing the house, painting demonic stuff on their faces, killing people, and putting George through hell in an orgy of complete craziness that verges on the surreal. The crazy performances are pretty amazing (Colleen Camp especially manages to be very seductive and frighteningly unhinged all at once... kind of a "Hmmm, I might not mind being tormented by her... wait, no, on second thought..." deal. The ending is a "whu?!?" out- of- nowhere smack, and if the plot and visuals don't drive you insane, the repetition of this awful "My Dear Old Daaaa aaaaa aaad!" song will make you as crazy as Colleen. This much creepier and more disturbing than most horror films dare to be and works kind of like a contemporary, more- intense female Clockwork Orange. It's slipped through the cracks somehow and doesn't have the reputation it deserves, but it is available on a cheap DVD (full screen with a too dark print and annoying pauses with each chapter change). Supposedly based on a true story.

Erotic Diary of a Murderess (C, 1975) aka La Encadenada, Diary of an Erotic Murderess, Diary of a Murderess, Diary of an Erotic Mistress. A pretty young psychologist named Gina takes a job looking after a disturbed young man who's been crazy and mute ever since he saw his mother killed. He'd worshiped her a little too much, and won't let anyone touch her stuff. He sits around all day playing his mother's favorite songs on the piano, but soon forms a crush on Gina. You can hardly blame him, and his dad likes her, too. But Gina's got ulterior motives: she's interested in stealing the family's art treasures for her detested husband, who's blackmailing her. She pokes around a drawer full of jewelry and finds the dead mother's diary and learns that she hated her husband, too, and had a plan to murder him. Gina gets caught stealing and she almost gets kicked out, but manages to stay and starts manipulating the son against the father, and trying to work out the dead wife's murder plans, and wonders if there might not be a way to get rid of her blackmailing husband, too. But the mute boy turns out to have an illegitimate brother, and Gina's plans may land her in big trouble. Suitably dark and twisted Spanish criminal saga with plenty of atmosphere and Marissa Mell's Barbara -Steele- like beauty fully focused and fetishized. The version I saw was on an old Alabama TV station that used to show cool stuff late at night before they were sold and turned to shit, so if there was ever any real erotic content it was trimmed out of the TV print, but I can't imagine where it would have been. Probably the only movie with the word "erotic" in the title ever aired on broadcast television, at least in the South. Very obscure but worthy of rediscovery...somebody should get on the stick and make a special edition DVD. In the meantime, there's Sinister Cinema.

Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (C, 1980) aka Notti Erotiche dei Morti Vivienti, Sexy Nights of the Living Dead, Nite of the Zombies) How can you pass up a movie with such an amazingly stupid title? I don't know, but you should probably investigate a way, because this is one howling doodoo of a film. Italian exploitation stalwarts George Eastman and Laura Gemser star in this exercise in envelope pushing directed by Joe D'Amato, which (if you get the unrated version) mixes a bunch of (boring) hardcore porn interludes with graphic zombie gore. George Eastman's hired by a hotel developer who's stupid enough to try to turn a shunned island that people dare not even speak of into a resort. It's called Cat Island because it's populated by zombies who are led by a cat. If there's much more plot than that, apparently it's a secret they decided not to let us in on. A lot of time is filled with ridiculous ephemera, such as a woman doing an awkward little dance and then opening a champagne bottle with her vagina (while watching that, marvel at the fact that a band somewhere actually composed and played the music that accompanies it). It takes forever for the zombies to show up, but at least they're halfway decent wearing rags with hoods around their heads and rotting faces, and they supply some gore as a reward for sitting through the rest of this dreck. Violence includes impalement, corpse eating, a bitten -off dick, gunshots to the head. But it's too little too late, and this film is easily missable by all except for people who just HAVE to see every Italian zombie flick ever created (I plead guilty... oh, so very damnably guilty...)

Some of the music (which isn't bad)

Face at the Window, The (B&W, 1939) A killer called The Wolf is on the loose in 1880's Paris. A young bank clerk named Lucien becomes a suspect when The Wolf robs the bank, but there's also a millionaire named Chevalier around, and he's played by Tod Slaughter, who always plays the most nefarious bad guys possible, so you don't have to be Fellini to figure out what's going on. Slaughter and Lucien both have their eyes on the owner of the bank's daughter ? Lucien because he's in love with her, Slaughter because of greed. Slaughter plans to get rid of Lucien as soon as possible, but Lucien is friends with a mad doctor who's doing experiments on raising the dead via electricity. He wants to resurrect one of The Wolf's victims to discover his identity. Slaughter frames Lucien for one of The Wolf's crimes, but Slaughter is doing the killings himself with the aid of his deformed idiot brother, who peeks in the window to horrify the victims with his bestial drooling while Slaughter stabs them in the back. Lucien fights back, and a series of evil events follow. Another dated but fun Tod Slaughter horror flick, with Tod a bit more restrained that usual, but still gleefully sinister, even with a mustache and beard and pretending to be French.

Whole movie starts here:

Fall of the House of Usher
(B&W, 1949) Extremely bizarre, creaky British obscurity that plays like a weird nightmare and has little to do (at first) with Poe's story. It starts with a framing device of some stodgy old farts swapping stories at a gentlemen's club. Then it goes into the story, about a guy taking Roderick Usher out into the woods to a temple (which has a torture chamber in the basement!) to explain his family curse to him. There's a living severed head in an alcove in the wall, and it's guarded by Roderick's insane, mute old hag of a mother; the head belonged to a lover of hers and she'll go homicidal on anyone who tries to touch it. But, to prevent some sort of family curse, Roderick has to burn the head. One guy who tries it ends up caught in a bear trap and is left to the crazy lady. The alternate way to end the curse is to kill Roderick's sister Madeline, but of course they don't want to do that. Madeline roams in the woods at night and almost gets caught by the knife wielding hag, who also travels through underground passages from the temple to the Usher house, which is filled with secret passages. Then suddenly Madeline dies and it turns into Poe's story, with her being entombed and rising from the dead and stalking Roderick around the house during a thunderstorm. It's all semi nonsensical and that's why it's so creepy -- it has a lot of dream logic, and the movie's shortcomings actually work in its favor. The stiff acting, low budget, and badly outdated (even for its time, this one's archaic and creaky) approach to filmmaking add to the dreamlike absurdity. Some of the photography is effectively spooky, too, with lots of heavy shadows and dark silhouettes. I caught this on an old satellite station years ago and figured I was the only person on the planet who'd seen this thing. I was amazed to recently find creepyclassics.com offering it on a DVD -R, so now you can check it out, too, if they still have it. It's good if you like movies like Vampyr (not that this is a masterpiece like that ? this is a cheap little B- flick, but it still has that kind of slow, eerie mood.) Prints are scratchy, making it seem even more ancient.