Showing posts with label Horror. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Horror. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Night Shoot

In researching Scottish author David Sodergren, a review blurb I read described his fiction as “modern horror for vintage fans”. That sort of stuck with me when I borrowed a friend's paperback of Sodergren's Night Shoot. The book was self-published in 2019, one year after the author's acclaimed debut The Forgotten Island. As a fan of vintage slasher flicks, I was excited to sample Sodergren's writing.

Night Shoot's past-tense, third-person narrative (you have to be specific these days) features Elspeth Murray as the protagonist. In the book's early introduction, readers learn that Elspeth is in her fourth year of film school to become a professional set designer. She lives with her girlfriend Sandy and the two seem to be reaching a milestone in their relationship. 

Elspeth's class has paired her up with a small crew of classmates that must complete a film as their final exam. The group is mostly misfits that are working on a low-budget horror movie called The Haunting of Lacey Carmichael. While some of the film has been shot at the school, the director has called in a family favor to his father to use an estranged uncle's cavernous manor house to shoot the majority of the film. There's a lot more to it, but giving anything else away is giving you the steak before the sizzle. 

The rule is that the film crew has to get in and out of the house in one day, allowing just a few hours of shooting time before the rigid 8PM deadline to get the Hell out. This rule is important to the owner of the place, a stuffy old fart that doesn't appreciate the tedious task of having young snot-nosed kids ruining the woodwork. As the film crew sets up in the giant mansion, a hideous “something” is in the attic watching and waiting. 

In a fast-paced 80s slasher style, each of the film crew is knocked off in heinous fashion. It follows the beloved formula of ticking off the characters until the final girl is left alone in the house with the “something”. I was getting some serious Linda Blair vibes from the VHS classic Hell Night (1981), but also shades of the flick Curtains (1983) and the lost gem The House That Vanished (1973). Setting is always important for these stories and the use of an enormous manor house nestled on a cliff overlooking the North Sea was pretty spectacular. Kudos to the author for using every square foot of the house's interior, with chase scenes spilling into offices, hallways, attics, bedrooms, rooftops, and closets. 

Night Shoot is a 230-page horror novel for the casual mop-headed rental-store veterans out there. I love a good 70s and 80s romp where the actress evades the masked man through campgrounds, houses (big or small), malls, schools, barns, and mines. If you love that stuff, then Night Shoot is a popcorn classic. I can't wait to read more of this author.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Night of the Mannequins

Texas-born Stephen Graham Jones (b. 1972) contributes to horror, crime, and science-fiction genres. He has earned critical praise for his novels The Only Good Indians and My Heart is a Chainsaw. He is also a multiple winner of the Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson literary awards. Reading the praise, I jumped into his novella Night of the Mannequins not only to experience Jones for the first time, but also because mannequins are downright terrifying.

There isn't a lot to this little story. The plot is fairly simple and straight-forward. A kid named Sawyer is killing off his friends to protect their families from being killed by a mannequin. But, to jump to that extremity, there are events leading up to this.

Sawyer and his friends find a discarded dummy in the forest. “Manny” becomes the group mascot and gets hauled around from place to place kinda like Pete the Pup in The Little Rascals – only Pete was real and this mannequin isn't. However, for Sawyer that all changes. 

The group play a joke on their friend at the theater and place Manny in a seat, then they go complain to management that somebody in the crowd is being too loud. But, the joke is on Sawyer when he witnesses Manny getting out of his seat and walking out of the theater. Is Manny real? Is IT alive? 

Sawyer believes that one of his friends, and their family members, is run over in the street by Manny. He also believes Manny is stealing food from the neighborhood and eating in some hunkered-down locale in the woods. It's really out there man. But, to protect all of the innocent family members from being murdered, Sawyer decides he will just take a less violent approach and kill his friends before Manny can. If his friends can't be slashed to death by the slasher, then innocent lives will be spared.

Night of the Mannequins is a goofy serial-killer-slasher novel that is told from Sawyer's perspective. I have a minor beef with these types of stories because I don't want to be trapped in the mind of a lunatic. Some readers, and horror fans, love this sort of thing. I'm borderline with it. I like that Jones knows how to get into the story and get out quickly, leaving a short space here to do his thing. At 144 pages, this book is a real breeze that's enjoyable and fun without any excess baggage. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Dark Harvest

According to trusty Wikipedia, Norman Partridge (b. 1958) has authored two detective novels starring a retired boxer named Jack Baddalach. He won his first Bram Stoker award in 1992 for his collection Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales. He also won Stoker awards in 2001 for The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists and in 2006 for Dark Harvest. In scanning retail bookshelves, and movies on various streamers, I can't seem to escape Dark Harvest. It's available in digital, physical, and audio versions and was also adapted into a 2023 film and released by MGM. Accepting it as an omen, I decided to just give the book a whirl. 

The novel is set in an unnamed Midwestern small town on and around Halloween night. The town is unlike any other because it has a strict set of rules that are enforced by a macabre annual contest. Here's the setup:

Every year on Halloween, one male citizen journeys into a town cornfield and digs up a small boy-sized corpse. Using a process unknown to readers (and I'd speculate the author), this corpse comes to life and is provided some sort of jack-o-lantern head and vines and tendrils that make up arms and legs. Injected into its torso is a big bag of delicious candy. The animated corpse then has only one mission. The corpse must make it to the old church before midnight. The corpse is named The October Boy, but some refer to it as Sawtooth Jack. Oh, and the corpse can legally kill anyone in its way.

Okay, with me so far? Continue on...

A week or so before Halloween, the teenage male boys are placed into a type of solitude by their parents to starve them. The purpose is because on Halloween night, the male kids are let out and they must hunt and kill the corpse. Like a Capture the Flag kind of thing. Whoever the lucky kid is that can successfully kill the corpse before it reaches the old church wins the annual prize – a free pass to get out of town and his parents get a ton of money. The kids are starved purposefully so they will go after the corpse in an aggressive way to eat the candy inside. 

You're probably thinking, what sort of puny prize allows someone to just leave town. Well, that's the kicker. You see in this town no one can ever leave. The only way out is by winning the prize. Also, if you are a female, well you're just completely trapped in town forever because females aren't allowed to compete in the game.

Dark Harvest is one-part Stephen King in its The Walk and The Running Man dystopian contest. The other part is similar to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, based on a small hamlet's annual weirdness. Partridge's writing is like a bleak crime-fiction novel, with plenty of pistol and shotgun blasts to compete with many men's action-adventure paperbacks. He also uses a quick and punchy prose that delivers a smooth, short-sentence presentation for his readers. I liked the more masculine wording Partridge uses to describe cars, motors, guts, and gunshots. He has a gritty, more realistic style that isn't punted away by the dark fantasy make-believe of the overall story.

My real complaint with Dark Harvest (besides the irritating present-tense narrative) is a popular one. The book's violent wrap-up doesn't provide any explanation as to why the town is the way it is. If you are looking for closure, none will be found. The mystery of the magical corpse, why the game is played, and the overall necessity of the corpse's death is left unanswered. Reading Dark Harvest reminded me of why I gave up on Lost by the second season. I had a sense of urgency to know the answer. In that regard, the reading experience was unsatisfactory. But, getting to that conclusion was actually a lot of fun. Your mileage may vary. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Lantern Man

Having read four of Jon Bassoff's nine novels to date, I'm convinced he might be the most talented and thought-provoking author in the business. When writing a blog dedicated to reviewing vintage fiction, of which many of its authors are long dead, it is unusual for me to even refer to a writer as still being alive and relevant. Yes, Bassoff is alive (and well I hope) and continuing to write amazing books that defy any specific genre. He's as much a murder-mystery guy as a horror writer, as much a crime-fiction stalwart as a noir enthusiast. If Bassoff was a filmmaker, nods to David Lynch would certainly be warranted. He's that good.

In The Lantern Man, originally published in 2020 by Down and Out Books, Bassoff once again takes his readers into a dark strip of American Gothic, a Bible Belt of the Devil where small-town killings somehow find a shaded pathway to a not-so-idyllic family. Like his previous novels in Corrosion and Beneath Cruel Waters, The Lantern Man is set in a small community nestled in a rural stretch of Colorado mountains. It is here that mining was once prominent, and like any mining town, there are inevitable childhood rumors of a murderous miner that steals away children in the night to feast on their flesh. This rumor of “The Lantern Man” plays a big part in the murder of a teenage girl. Did a killer miner from days gone by murder her or was it a young man named Stormy Greiner?

The book is presented in a pretty innovative way, with comparisons made to House of Leaves (Mark Danielewski) or Dracula (Bram Stoker). The book is presented as texts, but made up of diary entries that feature footnotes written by a detective. It is a form of ergodic literature where the reader is forced into a sort of game to review all of the book's passages and clues. It isn't a heavy lift and can be read seamlessly from beginning to end. 

Ultimately, the narrative is a pretty twisted venture into some really dark places. The book's protagonist, Lizzie Greiner, is immediately disclosed to the reader as a suicide victim, a young woman who burns herself to death in an old mining shack. Beside her charred body is her journal, left in a fireproof box in a way that spells out all of the events leading up to her death. 

Detective Russ Buchanan is assigned the cumbersome chore of weeding through the journal and interviewing witnesses that may hold the answer to the girl's murder. The real answer lies in the eye of the beholder – none of the evidence or witnesses provide an indisputable explanation. The author's message is purely subjective. 

The Lantern Man is an extremely rewarding reading experience. The text is a great story, saturated in family ties, mystery, and a compelling narrative. But, the presentation is equally satisfying and designed for fans of crime-fiction. No matter what genre you prefer, this novel checks off every box. Highest possible recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Thurlow's Christmas Story

Did you know that the Christmas season not only brings glad tidings, but also ghost stories? Sure, the easy nod here goes to the ultimate Christmas ghost story, Charles Dickens' 1842 classic A Christmas Carol. But, references to the Christmas ghost can be dated as far back as 1730 with Round about Our Coal-Fire (aka Christmas Entertainments). 

In an effort to locate a Christmas tale for Paperback Warrior, I delved through some old anthologies and found Horrors in Hiding, a 1973 Berkley Medallion paperback edited by Sam Moskowitz and Alden H. Norton. While the cover screams Halloween, the book actually features a Christmas story called "Thurlow's Ghost Story" (misspelled in the TOC), authored by John Kendrick Bangs. The story was originally published in Harper's Weekly in 1894 as "Thurlow's Christmas Story". It turns out that Bangs was the humor editor at Harper's and was assigned with writing a holiday-themed story that year. He submitted "Thurlow's Christmas Story" as a sort of morality tale/tongue-in-cheek jab at holiday publishing deadlines.

The story is presented as a mild form of ergodic literature, meaning that the text itself represents a piece of the story. You can find this meta-story in a story in other early fiction, something like Bram Stoker's Dracula where parts of the book are diary entries. Here, the story is a statement written by Henry Thurlow, an author assigned the cumbersome task of writing a holiday-themed piece for the Idler, a Weekly Journal of Human Interest. The story's text is this statement sent to George Currier, the journal's editor. 

In the statement, Thurlow attempts to explain, in detail, why the assignment hasn't been completed, why the looming deadline is in jeopardy of tardiness, and how his own mindset is being plagued by an unknown supernatural force. Thurlow advises that several nights ago he saw his doppelganger standing at the foot of the stairs. He describes this vision as, “It was then that I first came face to face with myself – that other self, in which I recognized, developed to the full, every bit of my capacity for an evil life.” A week later, Thurlow sees the person again, describing it as, “...that figure which was my own figure, that face which was the evil counterpart of my own countenance, again rose up before me, and once more I was plunged into hopelessness.” 

As the deadline looms closer, Thurlow experiences this bizarre visitation multiple times. However, the strangest visitation occurs one night when the author's fan arrives at his doorstep to present him with a manuscript. The fan explains that he spent nearly a decade writing the story and that he feels Thurlow should publish the piece as his own. Without spoiling too much, Thurlow sheepishly accepts the manuscript and dismisses the fan. Later, Thurlow reads the manuscript and deems it to be brilliant. By using his own byline, Thurlow submits the manuscript only to find a surprising response from his editor. In a clever way, the text the reader is consuming makes up the final submission to the editor. The long and short of how the text becomes a part of the story is a real thrill.

You can read this story, including a neat write-up on Christmas ghost stories, at the Library of America's Story of the Week blog HERE.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Moon of Madness, Moon of Fear!

Cleveland, Ohio native George Alec Effinger (1947-2002) won Hugo and Nebula awards for his 1988 novelette Schrodinger’s Kitten. Collectively, the science-fiction author wrote over 25 novels including four novelizations of the Planet of the Apes television series. Effinger contributed stories to magazines like Haunt of Horror and Fantastic. In the 1970s, Effinger authored comic book stories for publishers like DC and Marvel, including titles like Fantastic Four, Journey into Mystery, and Sword of Sorcery. My first experience with the writer is his story "Moon of Madness, Moon of Fear", originally published in the first issue of the short-lived Marvel Comics series Chamber of Chills (1972-1976).

The story begins in the gloomy hills of Bavaria as a young man is seen running from wolves in the forest at night. Effinger warns readers that old-wives’ tales might have a grain of truth. The story then goes back just a few hours and shows four young people preparing for a camping trip into the Bavarian wilderness. They receive a warning from an old woman that the residents live by the moon, including both man and wolf. 

Later that night, by the light of the moon, the four people come to the aid of a man found surrounded by wolves in the forest. They bring him to the light of their fire and the group band together to fend off a pack of snarling wolves that have surrounded them. But, as the first rays of sunlight pierce the sky, the young travelers meet their fate. 

The presentation is the team of Dan Adkins (Eerie, Creepy) and his assistant at the time, P. Craig Russell. This was one of Russell’s first comic jobs, as he would later go on to provide artwork for titles like Robin, Batman, Justice League, and Sandman. The book’s cover was penciled by Gil Kane. 

This was neat story with a unique twist on the werewolf formula. The traditional horror concept of a full moon transforming human to wolf is skillfully used by Effinger. The writing is short and to the point, with a careful emphasis on folklore underlined in a form of truth. An entertaining story plus terrific visuals makes this an easy recommendation for spooky 1970s comic book fans. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

The Black Farm

Contemporary New England author Elias Weatherow started his horror-writing career with online short fiction, and his popularity blossomed as he produced several well-received novels. His masterwork to date is The Black Farm, and I can honestly say that I’ve never read anything quite like it.

Dig the premise:

Nick (our narrator) and Jess are a severely-depressed couple who decide to commit suicide together in one of the grimmest Chapter One openers you’ll ever read. The tragic couple swallows a fistful of pills each and dies in each other’s arms. And then their adventure begins.

Nick awakens, not in heaven or hell, but in a horrific purgatory reserved for suicides. It’s called The Black Farm, and it’s a terrifying place filled with aggressive rotting slugs and a variety of disgusting, murderous creatures. If they kill you, you are simply reincarnated back at The Black Farm to be haunted, hunted and abused for an eternity.

The administrator of The Black Farm is a disgusting, corpulent creature called The Pig. The only way out of The Black Farm is to allow yourself to be eaten by The Pig which allows you to move onto another realm that may be better or worse than the farm. Tough choice.

For his part, Nick chooses to try to survive the horrors of this dark fantasy hellscape in hopes of reuniting with Jess and somehow protecting her in a way that he was unable to on Earth. Over time, the novel adopts the story arc of a men’s-adventure paperback of the 1970s in a dark fantasy setting with Nick on an armed mission to save a damsel in distress from an army of bad guys.

The author is a vivid extreme horror writer who set this novel in a dark fantasy otherworld allowing him to spread his creative and perverse wings. The world-building is simply fantastic. The violence and gore are indeed extreme. Torture scenes are bookended by bone-crunching fight scenes and non-stop action.

If you can handle some stomach-turning scenes, you’re bound to appreciate The Black Farm. The author has also written a sequel, which I will one day read and review. First, I need some earthbound violent adventures before I partake in more of The Pig’s nightmare world. Highly recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Spawn of Blackness

Carl Jacobi (1908-1997) authored short stories for the pulps like Doc Savage, Weird Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Top-Notch. Many of his tales were compiled into short story collections published by Arkham House including Revelations in Black (1947), Portraits in Moonlight (1964), and Disclosures in Scarlet (1972). My first experience with the author was his short story “Spawn of Blackness”, which was originally published in the October, 1939 issue of Strange Stories

The story begins with a ferocious pace as Dr. James Haxton, the story's protagonist, is introduced as racing through the city streets at midnight to answer a disturbing call from his old friend Stephen Fay. Haxton had received a call from his friend that something terrible had happened to him and that he needed urgent medical help. 

Arriving at Fay's home, Haxton and readers are brought up to speed on the astonishing events that have led to Fay lying in a bloody heap. From his bed, Fay explains that he had taken a trip to a South African village. While there he purchased a small wooden statue of a large rat. Upon returning to the US, he showed the statue to an anthropology expert that recognized it as a religious fixture used by a tribe in New Guinea. Learning of its history, Fay dropped an old piece of black cloth over it. But, sometime in the night, the rat came alive and burrowed through the wall. Fay describes it as “...a gray shape and a head with red eyes and white gleaming teeth.” The rat creature threw itself at Fay ripping and tearing.

“Spawn of Blackness” wasn't particularly scary, but it was a real pleasure to read. Jacobi's approach is more of the arm-chair detective style as the hero Haxton tries to solve the mystery behind the savage rat attacks. Is the rat real or some figment of the overworked scientist? The author also included some great usage of colors, particularly the scientific approach of black absorbing all of the primary colors. There's some use of the concept that is crucial to the story's ending. Overall, a very entertaining story. 

Friday, November 24, 2023

Winter Chill

Joanne Fluke, John Fischer, Gina Jackson, Kathryn Kirkwood, and R.J. Fisher are all pseudonyms of Minnesota author Joanne Fischmann Gibson (b. 1943). In the 1980s, she used the name Jo Gibson to write young adult horror books like Dance of Death, My Bloody Valentine, and Slay Bells. My first experience with the author is her novel Winter Chill, originally published by Dell in 1984. The book was reprinted by Kensington in 2013 as a mass-market paperback and now exists in both physical, audio, and digital editions.

The book begins with Dan Larsen playing in the snow with his daughter Laura. The two are buzzing through the Minnesota powder on a snowmobile when Dan runs into a snow-covered plow. The accident leads to Laura's death and Dan's permanent paralysis. This opening chapter also introduces readers to Dan's wife Marian, who becomes the main character.

To help his wife's mourning, Dan comes up with the idea of writing little notes to Marian pretending to be Laura's ghost. Things like, “I'm in a happy place now Mommy”. It is just as weird as it sounds, and I had to suspend my disbelief that Marian, a teacher that had her own daughter as a student, couldn't recognize that this was Dan's handwriting. But, in bypassing the nitpicky stuff, I carried on.

Throughout the narrative, the kids in the tiny Minnesota town are being murdered by a shadowy killer. Two kids die in a garage when the killer turns the car on and closes the door. Little Becky is sawed to death in an icehouse. There's a throat-slashing on a snowy hill. You get the idea. It isn't nearly as compelling as an 80s slasher flick (or knock-off) because the dread and terror is simply stripped from the soggy narrative. The book's main focus is Marian's grieving, which sort of makes sense when the killer is unveiled, but the plot is buried in Dan adjusting to paralysis and Marian reading made-up messages from her dead daughter. I found Sheriff Bates the most interesting character, but he's third-string.

Despite a great cover, and back-cover synopsis, Winter Chill is a Winter Bore. Unlike Dan, proceed with caution.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

The Magpie Coffin

The genre “splatter western” came to fruition when Patrick C. Harrison III of Death's Head Press made it a company goal to release a series of western trade paperbacks featuring explicit violence and gore. There have been at least 13 paperbacks published by Death's Head Press as their “splatter western” offerings, but countless others have appeared from various self-published authors and small publishers. I've always enjoyed the western genre, so I borrowed a friend's copy of The Magpie Coffin (2020). It was written by Wile E. Young and represents the very first Death's Head Press splatter western title published. 

The Black Magpie is the book's anti-hero protagonist, a moniker heaped upon a notorious outlaw named Salem Covington. He's an American Civil-War Veteran that prowls the wild frontier (for reasons never really disclosed) killing and torturing bad people (?). He collects pieces of his victims – pieces of flesh, scraps of clothing – and uses them in black magic rituals to gain power. He possesses a gun that apparently (and magically) doesn't miss and it is revealed that Covington can't be killed by bullets. So, who the Hell is he then?

That's the part that Young never really dishes out to his reader, and that's the most frustrating part of the book's narrative. For reasons unclear to me, the author only provides hints of Covington's backstory and life purpose. For example, there is a brand of some sort below Covington's eye that provokes stark fear for anyone that sees it. But, what is it? Young really doesn't elaborate. There's an entire scene in the book where readers finally have the opportunity to learn more about Covington's mission when he meets “the coffin maker”. This man has some sort of history with Covington, but nothing specific is ever mentioned. It's all incredibly frustrating and senseless.

The Magpie Coffin's narrative features Covington on the revenge trail for the group of killers that murdered his mentor, a Comanche shaman named Dead Bear. Covington locates Dead Bear's corpse (far too easily) and puts him in a coffin wrapped in chains. But, Dead Bear is still somehow alive spiritually, which begs the question on why Dead Bear doesn't just perform his own revenge. Nevertheless, Covington rescues a young Union soldier and a prostitute and takes the two with him on a quest to hunt down the killers.

If you enjoy graphic violence often found in the horror and splatterpunk genre, then the sheer levels of brutality should be a pleasure for you. Like I wrote in my review for Suburban Gothic (co-wrote by a splatter western author Bryan Smith), the details of raping a corpse, scissoring off testicles, or sewing lips shut does nothing for me. It's all shock and awe, which isn't a satisfying substitute for a riveting story. There's not enough left in The Magpie Coffin contents to warrant a compelling read. This is standard volume feedback with gore. Nothing more, nothing less. Skip it.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

October Screams - A Halloween Anthology

Kangas Kahn film company have released horror films like Fear of Clowns, Garden of Hedon, and Terrortory over the last 20 years. In 2015, the film company launched Kangas Kahn Publishing, a small publisher that have released titles like With Teeth and Halloween: The Greatest Holiday of All. This Halloween season, the company has published an impressive short-story collection called October Screams: A Halloween Anthology. It is 27 stories authored by some of Paperback Warrior's favorite horror writers. 

Here are some of my favorites from this collection:

Ronald Malfi's “Tate” is a holiday-themed story that centers on a grieving couple on Halloween. It begins with Nick leaving the house to buy some candy for the visiting trick-or-treaters that will surely be arriving. His wife Alice waits patiently for his quick return, but begins to worry when the minutes turn into hours. When Nick returns, he's upset and heads straight to his dead son's bedroom. Alice comforts him, but both are surprised when a boy arrives at their door that resembles their deceased son. As the story unfolds, readers learn more about the boy's death and the finale was a throwback to the old EC Comics horror tales of the mid-20th century. “Tate” was really effective.

In “Perfect Night for a Perfect Murder”, author Jeremy Bates uses the short-story format to present this first-person perspective on how to properly commit premeditated murder. The protagonist is a crime-fiction author that is detailing the advantages of planning the perfect murder to coincide with what he persists is the best day of the year for murder, Halloween. The story is a blend of dark humor and crime-fiction, and it ends with a little twist that I could see coming. Very enjoyable.  

“Masks” is written by Brian Keene and Richard Chizmar and involves some kids pulling a convenience store robbery on Halloween night. There's some social commentary about Covid masks (no doubt Keene's doing) as the kids don costumes to rob the place. As the robbery ensues, one of the kids is forced to shoot a female customer that's wearing a devil mask. When the kids make the getaway, they begin noticing that all of the streets are empty. There is an eerie silence. When the kids are beckoned to the home of a friend, they see more people wearing devil masks. While the story is a bit scrambled and seems incomplete, it nonetheless provided plenty of entertainment. 

I did enjoy man of the other stories, including Kealan Patrick Burke's haunting “afraid of the dark” tale “Let the Dark Do the Rest” as well as the clever, touching doll-perspective short, “Doll”, by Ryan Van Ells. Overall, this collection has some hits and misses, but is sure to please fans of horror stories. If you are a Bates, Keene, Chizmar, and Malfi fan, then these stories alone are worth the price of admission. Recommended.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants

The pulp-fiction and men's action-adventure connoisseurs Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle are back at it again with a brand new volume for their Men's Adventure Library series (published by New Texture). The book is aptly titled Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants and it is a beautiful collection of vintage men's adventure magazine stories about ghosts, aliens, robots, vampires, werewolves, and creepy rats. Like many of their prior offerings, this book is available in an expanded hardcover edition as well as paperback.  

The collection begins with “A Century of Weird Tales”, written by PulpFest organizer Mike Chomko. This is an informative history on Weird Tales magazine's history, including full color cover panels by the likes of Virgil Finlay, Matt Fox, and Margaret Brundage. Chomko illustrates how Weird Tales really found its identity in 1924 when Farnsworth Wright assumed the editorial role. At that point, the magazine began a prosperous creative flow populated by some of the best writers of the 20th century – Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Hugh B. Cave, and Manly Wade Wellman, as well as artists like Hannes Bok, Jack Williamson, and Margaret Brundage. 

In “Weasels Ripped Their Flesh”, horror editor, critic, and author Stefan Dziemianowicz examines the influx of early, weird pulp-fiction stories that appeared in the mid to later 20th century Men's Action-Adventure Magazines (MAMs for short). Dziemianowicz points out that these MAM editors would often browse back issues of old pulp magazines to find riveting stories they could feature in their own publications. Titles like Cavalier, Fury, Men, and Peril featured stories previously authored by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, and Theodore Sturgeon. The article also includes artwork by John Leone and James Bingham.

Both Deis and Doyle offer their own experienced insight on “A Turn for the Weird:, a massive 27-page essay that not only explores the richness of weird pulp-fiction stories in the pages of MAMs, but also serves as an informative introduction on the many stories that saturate this impressive short-story collection. The duo also use this medium to explore the idea of MAMs historically featuring brawny, barrel-chested heroes that were impervious to harm. They show a stark contrast between the usual flavor of MAM writing to the more harrowing horror and terror tales that were sprinkled in. In these stories, readers welcomed the change and grew to accept that these heroes were prone to “fear, panic, mutilation, and fatalism.” The text also examines how the violence and savagery of these MAM stories served as an unexpected coping tool for military veterans that predominately bought and read these publications.

The stories culled from the MAMs and presented here offer a variety of creatures, traditional horror, science-fiction, and just plain 'ole weird writing. The authors featured include Gardner F. Fox, H.P. Lovecraft, Manly Wade Wellman, Rick Rubin, and Theodore Sturgeon. For eye candy, glorious artwork from John Leone, Basil Gogos, Mark Schneider, Vic Prezio, Clarence Doore, Dwight Howe, Fernando Fernandez, John Duillo, Norm Eastman, George Cross, and Mort Kunstler to name a few.

Needless to say, if you love horror, science-fiction, pulp-fiction, MAMs, or collectively the amazing body of work created by both Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, then this book is a mandatory addition to your library. With a title like Atomic Werewolves and Man-Eating Plants, why wouldn't it be? 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy

Bill Pronzini (b. 1943) saw his first novel, The Stalker, published in 1971. His writing career has flourished with over 50 stand-alone novels as well as numerous novels in his series titles like Carpenter and Quincannon and Nameless Detective. Aside from being a prolific author, Pronzini's career is often celebrated for his anthology editing. He has collaborated with the likes of Martin Greenberg, Barry Malzberg, and Carol-Lynn Waugh for nearly 100 short-story collections in genres like crime-fiction, horror, and western. One of the first Pronzini anthologies I read was Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy. It was published as a hardcover by Arbor House in 1980.

This collection is presented in three parts. Part 1: Traditional Voodoo features stories by Cornell Woolrich, W.B. Seabrook, Robert Bloch, Carl Jacobi, and Henry S. Whitehead. Part II is Voodoo Elsewhere and Otherwise, consisting of stories by Robert Louis Stevenson, John Russell, Edward Hoch, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Bryce Walton, and Morris West. The final part is The “Ultimate” Voodoo, which is simply one tale by Henry Slesar. 

The stories in this volume are culled from numerous pulps like Weird Tales, Dime Mystery, Rogue, and Adventure. One original story appears here, “Exu”, by Edward D. Hoch. 

In sampling the collection, I began with Robert Bloch's story “Mother of Serpents”. Pronzini's introduction states that the story was first appeared in Weird Tales in 1936. Bloch was only nineteen years of age when the story was published, two years after the author's first professional sale to Weird Tales in 1934. “Mother of Serpents” is a fictional tale based on factual events (presumably the leadership of Fabre Geffrard). It tells the story of a new, unnamed president arriving to power in Haiti. This new leader wants to remove the “old world” from the country. The narrative takes readers through the president's life as a boy, his mother's mastery of the dark arts, and the horrific event that mires his presidency in the very thing he wants to eliminate – voodoo. It's a great story that accomplishes a great deal despite the short length. Of note is the strained, bizarre relationship between the president and his mother, an element that Bloch will successfully use later in his smash hit Psycho

Bryce Walton was a staff correspondent for Leatherneck Magazine, and after WWII transitioned into writing for the mystery, detective, western, and sci-fi pulps. Walton's contribution to Voodoo! is his short “The Devi Doll”, which originally appeared in Dime Mystery in 1947. In the story, New York artist Earl breaks up with his girlfriend Crita, a French woman who has a hobby of voodoo. But, Crita knows that Earl really broke up with her because the new girl, Jean, is extremely wealthy. When Earl makes his case that he no longer loves Crita, she curses him. Later, Earl finds that a small, miniature version of Crita is “growing” out of his shoulder. Crita whispers terrifying things to Earl, which eventually leads to terrible things happening to Jean. Walton's writing is terrific with a smooth prose that serves as a sort of countdown to Earl's demise.   

Used copies of Voodoo! A Chrestomathy of Necromancy are out there. You can also get a real bargain by searching for the giant Arbor House Necropolis hardcover. It was published in 1981 and not only features the entirety of Voodoo!, but also collects two other Pronzini-edited anthologies about mummies and ghouls. Spooky, and darn-near mandatory for vintage-fiction readers. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, October 27, 2023

The Kill

New York native Alan Ryan (1943-2011) graduated from Regis High School in Manhattan and from Fordham University in The Bronx. He was an English teacher, book reviewer, and later an editor. In his writing career, he produced at least five horror novels and three short-story collections. My first experience with his literary work is the novel The Kill, which was originally published in paperback by Tor in 1982. 

The book begins with a nine year old girl running away from home during a storm. Readers learn that she is on the outskirts of the small town of Deacon's Kill. Something grabs and jerks her head, creating instant death. Then, whoever or whatever killed the girl moves back into the forest. End scene. But, unfortunately the book continues. 

A couple named Megan and Jack work and live in Manhattan and are tiring of their hectic schedules. They are invited by a friend to visit a farm in Deacon's Kill, a sort of all-night party involving another 30 or 40 city yuppies. At the farm, a woman is murdered by this same unknown person or thing when she ventures too far into the forest to urinate. The murder (and urination) is caught on tape by a voyeur/party participant and presented to the local sheriff. The odd thing is that who, or whatever this thing is, was completely invisible. Like the book's plot. 

Megan and Jack, in their infinite wisdom, decide that this farm – which just hosted a murder by an invisible monster in the forest – is an ideal place for them to move to. WTF! They both quit their jobs and move into this ordinary run-of-the-mill farm house in the middle of nowhere. They befriend the sheriff and everything seems fantastic (read that as mundane and lifeless) for the next 250 pages of this horrific 294 page paperback. The couple make love, establish new businesses, have dinner with the sheriff and his wife, make friends with the town doctor, and engage in mindless, completely dull antics for a painful amount of pages. Just when my knuckles were white from anger, something finally happens. 

Apparently, the former owner of the farm dug up some old bones that resembled a prehistoric man. How the man is now alive, invisible, and is able to track all over the forest without anyone noticing isn't relevant, so no real explanation is offered (or I slept through it). Instead, you have the girl at the beginning of the book and the chick at the party as the only main victims while the sheriff watches endless loops of the VHS tape that captured the one piss/murder. The rest of the novel is just a complete waste of time and I wish I could erase it from the annals of time. 

If I'm locked in a room by a maniac and forced to watch endless Medicare commercials or read this pass the popcorn and crank the tube up. I'd do just about anything to avoid the literary nightmare of Alan Ryan's The Kill. So should you.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Suburban Gothic

Bryan Smith has authored more than thirty horror and crime novels. His novel 68 Kill was adapted to film and his 2009 novel Depraved became an instant cult classic, leading to three sequels. Brian Keene earned the 2014 World Horror Grandmaster Award, two Bram Stoker awards, and the Imadjinn Award for best fantasy novel in 2016. It was just a matter of time before the two friends collaborated on a novel. 

In 2009, Brian Keene authored a paperback for Leisure called Urban Gothic. The premise had a group of kids breaking into an old row house in Philadelphia that they thought was abandoned. Unfortunately for them, a family of inbred cannibals lived in the basement. The book was an obvious ode to “grindhouse” theater flicks like Hills Have Eyes and Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I enjoyed the book years ago, so I was intrigued to learn of the book's sequel, Suburban Gothic, published in 2020. But, the backstory on the novel doesn't stop there. 

It turns out that Suburban Gothic actually connects (retcons?) Keene's Urban Gothic with Bryan Smith's horror novel The Freakshow, which was originally published by Leisure in 2007. I also read that novel, and reviewed it HERE. In The Freakshow, cosmic entities are controlling humans from a netherworld. These entities combine mayhem, torture, cannibalism, rape, etc. into a sort of game which comes to a small town in Tennessee through a traveling carnival. The book was slightly above average and written in a perverse way that I typically find distasteful. I'm not a fan of Bryan Smith.

Suburban Gothic, which is authored by both Smith and Keene, has an early explanation that the inbred cannibals from Urban Gothic are forced to move to an abandoned mall located in a sketchy crime-ridden part of Philadelphia. At the same time, Smith's crazy supernaturally-controlled entities also move into the mall. One side is occupied by these mutant freaks (humans with arachnid-like appendages, multiple heads, etc.) while the other side is the weirdo cannibals. 

Like Urban Gothic, various people enter this abandoned mall for different reasons. These disposable characters include a group of urban explorers shooting YouTube footage, a real-estate agent, and your common everyday headbanging stoners. This is a problem for the book and it's readers. None of these characters are remotely interesting, and all of them are flawed and unlikable. So, when Smith writes nasty, violent deaths for each character (I'm sure he was tasked with their violent endings), I found myself simply skipping to the next death set-up. 

Brian Keene typically isn't an extreme splatter-horror guy, but Smith's participation drags this book into uncomfortable depravity. Characters are raped sodomized, eaten, beaten, forced into various amputations, dragged across multiple hard surfaces, shot, stabbed, and, in some cases, involuntarily placed into barbaric medical experiments. At a time in my life when I can turn on any social media news platform and see brutality and death, reading the intricate details of a fishing hook ripping an anus isn't really what I find enjoyable. 

If you love shock and awe, then by all means have a great time with Suburban Gothic. For me personally, this book is just an absolute mess mired in useless death, excess violence, and horrific gore. Take a hard pass on this kind of thing. Maybe it will eventually just go away. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2023


Andrew Niederman (b. 1940) is the author of over 125 novels under his own name and others. He ghostwrote a handful of novels as V.C. Andrews after the real lady died and his book The Devil’s Advocate was adapted into a movie starring Keanu Reeves. Pin was his fourth novel, originally published in 1981.

Pin is told as a first-person flashback by Leon looking back on his odd adolescent years with his sister, Ursula. As adolescents, they share an imaginary (?) friend named Pin who was always there with them. Pin is an elaborate, adult-size, anatomical medical dummy come to life. It’s clear that Pin has a lot in common with their dead father with the big differences being Pin’s translucent flesh where every vein, organ and capillary can be seen.

Leon and Ursula are orphans. Their wealthy parents die in a car accident and leave a considerable fortune to the teens who continue living in the same creaky mansion in New York’s Catskills Mountains with Pin, the chatty, erudite medical mannequin who may or may not be real. The threesome are rather isolated up in the mountains living off the dead parents’ inheritance.

We are treated to flashbacks of their dysfunctional upbringing and the siblings' unconventional attitudes towards sex and desire. The sexual exploration gets rather explicit, so consider yourself warned. If you know about the incestuous work of V.C. Andrews, the novel often reads like the author was auditioning for the ghost-writing job he landed later in his career. A plot begins to develop when Ursula finds a boyfriend, and Leon is not pleased. Neither is Pin.

This paperback is so weird but also so readable. Neiderman keeps the pages turning because the reader is dying to know if we are reading a supernatural horror book or a Vietnam-era gothic about siblings experiencing a shared delusion. There’s plenty of graphic sex along the way, and the compelling weirdness doesn’t lighten up until the novels striking conclusion.

Overall, Pin is an easy recommendation if you’re looking for something completely different. It’s not particularly scary, but you won’t be able to look away. Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, October 23, 2023

The Switch House

Tim Meyer is a hotshot young horror author from the New Jersey Shore who has been appearing on a lot of “best-of” lists over the past few years. My first exposure to his work is his 2018 short novel, Switch House.

Angela and Terry are cast on a reality show called Let’s Switch Houses!, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Interestingly, the novel takes place when the couple returns to their own New Jersey house, which as been occupied for the past eight weeks by an unknown stranger. They only learn what was happening in their house in their absence when they sit together and watch the show along with the rest of America.

Even before the episodes broadcast, it’s clear to Angela that something is off in their own house. The place wasn’t frat-party trashed, but nothing feels right. Angela explains she feels like a stranger in a familiar house. The novel is mostly told through Angela‘s third-person perspective, and the author does some interesting tricks to showcase the fact that her perceptions are very different than her husband.

The bottom line is that a witchy lady was doing witchy stuff in their house while they were gone, and now this nice couple has to live in a haunted house. Meanwhile, their lives and family tragedies are being laid bare on reality television for the world to see.

Switch House is a combination of a haunted house story and a woman slipping into madness story. There are some cool plot twists I didn’t see coming, and some genuinely unnerving moments. Fans of paranoid, female-protagonist horror, along the lines of Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and whiplash-inducing plot twists will really enjoy this short novel. Consider it a must-read for fans of contemporary horror fiction. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

The Drive-In (A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn...)

Joe R. Lansdale (b. 1951) broke onto the scene in 1981 with a full-length serial killer police procedural called Act of Love. The aptly-titled novel lived up to its name, sparking a literary romance with readers for five decades. He's penned countless novels, series installments, graphic novels, adaptations, and edited numerous anthologies. His 1988 novel The Drive-In (A B-Movie with Blood and Popcorn, Made in Texas), published by Bantam, was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. A friend and blog reader let me borrow the paperback and advised that it was a really fun read. So, I just had to try it out.

The novel is set in a small-town in rural Texas. It's Friday evening, and a giant drive-in movie theater called The Orbit is playing six movies as part of its “The All-Night Horror Show”. Protagonist Jack, who presents the story in first-person, is with a sort of “losers club” that shows up for the night's festivities. But, somewhere in the middle of movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Toolbox Murders, a weird anomaly – call it a comet or alien spacecraft – swoops down and literally covers everything surrounding the drive-in parking lot with a weird flesh-eating black goop. In essence, it is sort of like a slimy alien fence containing just the drive-in theater. Everything else is just lost in the blackness. 

Like most survival horror novels (many which borrow from this very book), the book descends into a fight for survival as the theater's audience find themselves cut-off from civilization. With only a concession stand for food – free popcorn and soda while supplies last – and a lone bathroom, needless to say that humanity quickly shows it's darker self. As the days go on, mob violence takes control with rapes, beatings, shootings (it is Texas), and various factions forming. Jack sides with The Christians until he realizes they have a secret, savage way of surviving the violence. But, things get even more bizarre, deadly, and insane when Jack's two friends become struck by some sort of alien lightning that turns them into demonic cannibals that can do some really far-out stuff. 

The Drive-In is a horrific fantasy with science-fiction elements that bring to mind all of the B-movie black and white classics from the mid-20th century. That's the idea, and Lansdale absolutely nails it. His combination of humor – unintentional or not – sets a framework for these characters to behave in outrageous ways. Aside from the sky-level fun, one could read some subtext about the drive-in movie theater disappearing by the late 80s, replaced by shopping mall caverns and standalone brick-and-mortars that didn't exude the same sort of late night, backseat enjoyment. Additionally, it could show the sharp contrast of the old B-movies compared to the graphic, more mature movies that were being released in the grindhouse 70s and 80s formula. Sort of an invasion from nowhere of a barbaric savagery that far surpassed the practical “safe” effects of black and white Hollywood. 

Two more books in the Drive-In series were published, The Drive-In 2: Not Just One of Them Sequels (1989) and The Drive-In: The Bus Tour. Additionally, all three books are published as an omnibus titled The Complete Drive-In

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Halloween - The Scream Factory

The Halloween film franchise has been going strong for nearly a half-century. Who knew that a babysitter killer could spark so much interest from fans while simultaneously creating enough timelines and multiverses to compete with Marvel Comics. Depending on your level of fandom, you are just casually watching Michael Myers stalk his prey through 11 films (Halloween III doesn't count) or piecing together the various movies into separate timelines. For me personally, this is my favorite horror franchise and I watch the films religiously. In my mind, I've organized them all into various categories and timelines, but I've never bothered with the novels. 

In paperback format, there are novelizations for seven Halloween films and at least one fan-fiction novelization (Halloween 5 by Jake Martin). However, besides the novelizations, Berkley published three original paperbacks in the late 1990s – The Scream Factory (1997), The Old Myers Place (1997), and The Mad House (1998). These three novels, averaging 150 pages, were catered for young adults and featured Michael Myers doing what he does best – hunting teens in Haddonfield, IL. The books were authored by Kelly 'O Rourke (aka Kelly Reno) and aren't related to each other. These are stand-alone stories. This review is for The Scream Factory, the first of the three paperbacks. 

Ultimately, this novel only references events in the 1978 Halloween film. There is a mention of a body count, but it isn't correct. The book ignores any sequels, which makes it much easier to simply enjoy as a stand-alone horror novel. The knowledge that the Halloween film ended with Michael Myers being shot by his doctor and then disappearing is the only prerequisite needed. 

It's now 1997 and the small town of Haddonfield talks about Michael Myers as if he is an urban myth. The town's youth mostly designates the killer as a thing of legend, nothing more, nothing less. Myers hasn't been seen since 1978. High school student Lori Parker collaborates with her friend Sally to throw a large Halloween party in the basement of Haddonfield City Hall. The party, aptly titled The Scream Factory, will be a gathering of high school students and a local band (fronted by Lori's romantic interest). 

The events prior to the party leads to Myers appearance. In a series of murders, Myers begins killing some of Lori's friends and members of the town's staff. Myers is described as being covered in mud and having dirty hair, which brought to mind the imagery of “homeless” Myers in Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. Myers also does some things that are more in line with Jason Voorhees (Friday the 13th), showing supernatural strength by dragging a large tree across a highway. But, at other times he is calling Lori on the phone and making bizarre noises or placing jack 'o lanterns at various locations (with a knife). Rather odd behavior that seems to contrast with the movie versions.

The Scream Factory isn't great, nor is it scary. But, I will state for the record that this is more of an “adult” horror novel than young adult in terms of savage violence and some gore. I'm not completely convinced this is a young adult book despite the clownish cover art. If you just have to consume everything Michael Myers, then by all means read this. Otherwise, just stick to the films, novelizations, and the occasional graphic novel.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Chasing the Boogeyman

Richard Chizmar is a horror and suspense novelist who was plucked out of near-obscurity to collaborate with Stephen King on a couple of well-received co-authored novels. His 2022 “hunting a serial killer” book, Chasing the Boogeyman, is a clever bit of meta-fiction taking place in 1988.

The concept behind this novel is fairly audacious and unique, so pay attention or you’ll be lost from page one. First, the book is fiction - like Silence of the Lambs or any of the thousand serial killer mystery-thrillers you’ve read. Second, the book is written as if it’s a true crime paperback. Same style, formatting and pacing. The curve ball is that the main character is horror author Richard Chizmar telling the story of the killer terrorizing his home town in Maryland. This is where it gets meta. Yes, Chizmar is a fictional character in his own novel.

All of this works rather well as Chizmar takes the reader back to Edgewood, Maryland in 1988. A gruesome murder of a teenage girl snatched away from her bedroom at night has everybody terrified. And then it happens again. And again. The police are getting nowhere, and the media dubs the serial killer, The Boogeyman.

22 year-old Chizmar and his female reporter friend at the local newspaper take it upon themselves to undertake their own parallel investigation as the police seem to be chasing their tails. The progress they make creates both a bond and excuse for resentment from the local police, who don’t always take kindly to the meddling of amateur sleuths.

The solution to the mystery was straightforward and very satisfying in its execution. Chizmar has recently published a sequel called Becoming the Boogeyman that you should avoid like the plague until you fully absorb the solution to this one.

Chasing the Boogeyman is a fantastic addition to the serial killer mystery genre and is definitely worth your time. The genre has been beaten to death over the last 40 years, but somehow Chizmar’s gimmick breathes new life into the setup. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.