Category Archives: Horror

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One of my favorite sites focused on weird fiction, She Never Slept, is going through some serious financial difficulties, and could use your help. This site has featured interviews with some of the true greats of modern weird

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Review: Paranormal Activity 1-3 (Spoilers!)

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 3 (Image via RottenTomatoes.com)

Hello, Faithful Reader! I recently saw Paranormal Activity 3, and I wanted to share my thoughts on the whole series now that it is complete. There are spoilers below, so don’t scream at me…you’ve been warned!

So by now, everyone is familiar with both the subject and style of the series. In the first film, a couple (Katie and Micah) is harassed by an invisible and hostile entity, and the evidence of this is all recorded on personal video cameras. As the first film progresses, it is revealed that Katie had similar experiences as a child, and that it seemed like the “demon” (they eventually establish it is not a normal haunting by a ghost) was following her. Towards the end, in one of the most disturbing scenes in the film, Katie, apparently possessed by the demon, stands motionless next the bed, watching Micah sleep, while the video goes into fast forward to show her standing that way for hours. At the end of the film, the possessed Katie murders Micah, and then grins evilly at the camera and lunges at it. While there were alternative versions (the one with Katie simply sitting and rocking until the cops find her was, in my opinion, more powerful), the theatrical ending fits the sequels better, so it was, in fact, the better choice.

In the second film, we focus on the events leading up to part one, where Kristi, Katie’s sister, and her family are threatened by the same entity. Over the course of this film, various theories are evaluated about people making deals with demons, and it is made clear that the demon’s primary interest is Hunter, Kristi’s newborn son, as payment for…something which is never really explained other than wealth and power. It is shown that Kristi’s husband chose to ask his housekeeper, who is apparently versed in some form of witchcraft, to “transfer” the demon to Katie rather than Kristi. The first couple of minutes of the first movie are then shown, and then Katie is shown asking Kristi about the “strange stuff” happening, and mentions it has begun happening at her and Micah’s house. The movie then moves to three nights after the end of the first film. A possessed Katie comes to Kristi’s house, kills her husband, kills Katie, and then takes the baby, Hunter, and disappears.

The third movie works to explain the first two. It is also a prequel, this time showing a group of tapes that were recorded in 1988, when both Katie and Kristi are children. It is shown that “Toby”, Kristi’s imaginary friend, is actually the demon, and over the course of the film it tries to get her to do something, which at first she refuses, which leads to “Toby” tormenting Katie and their parents. The whole time, the events are being recorded by their stepfather, while their mother gets more and more angry (like Dan, Kristi’s husband in the first film, and Micah in the first film) at the whole affair. After a particularly violent attack, the whole family runs to the kid’s grandmother’s house, where it quickly descends into a type of Rosemary’s Baby cliche. It turns out that Kristi’s grandmother is a member of some sort of demonolatry cult, intent on performing a marriage ceremony between Kristi and the demon Toby. After both the parents are killed, grandma takes both girls to prepare for the wedding, and we see Kristi say “Come on, Toby”. The movie closes with demonic breathing and grunting until the camera cuts off, seemingly destroyed by Toby.

Now, before the ending of the third film, I really liked this series. First and foremost, the use of the “found footage” technique, which can often be tiresome, was well-handled in all three films. In addition to this, the real horror factor was at work…this is the sort of things people really do experience. Consider the such luminaries as Bishop James Pike have experienced poltergeist activity, and that whether you believe in ghosts (or other entities) or not, when people get spooked out, it is by the kinds of things that happen in these films. We never run into the special-effects laden monstrosities in real life, but like serial killers, paranormal horror takes an experience that many of us have had, or know other people have had, and uses it to scare the willies out of us. It works because, on some level, it feels very real, like it could really happen.

Which is why I feel like they took the easy way out with the third movie. Blaming everything on a witch-cult not only has a sort of inherent 70s cheeziness, when showing elements of a non-Christian religion could evoke fear simply by existing, but nowadays many of us know real witches or are pagan ourselves, and we know for a fact that a bunch of middle-aged women dancing around a bonfire (they don’t dance, but the circle around the bonfire is shown) is no more inherently threatening than a coffee-klatch after a Bible study. On top of this, I feel like the writer lost a chance to really ramp up the scary.

You see, by making the threat all about the actions and judgments of a group of adults, it moved “Toby” out of the world of children, with their generally odd behaviors, wild creativity, and imaginary friends. To my mind, the idea that there are malevolent entities simply wandering around the planet, befriending children, and then trying to harm them or get them to harm themselves or others, and that we just forget all about this world of supernatural dangers as we become adults, is far more frightening. The idea that there is a whole other world, with its own predators, rules, and sensorium, that only children interact with, cuts straight down to the bottom of many different fears. That’s a fear that, once activated, would have kept me awake all night, remembering the strangeness and visions of my own childhood…and making sure to close to the closet door and leave the light on. Instead, I just chuckled at the old scare-the-Christians-with-paganism bugaboo showing up in a modern horror film.

There is an otherness to childhood. There is something about the world they inhabit that we love…but also fear. They do things for reasons we can’t understand. They see things we do not, hear things we cannot. Their toys are creepy. By keeping the threat fundamentally about the kids, rather than making it a matter of volition for some group of adults, I feel like the final resulting tale of all three movies would have been far more powerful. The notion that not only could adults not stop it, that they have no volition over the situation whatsoever, and that the “demon” Toby was something truly of, and only of, the world of children, would have taken this series from “entertaining and a good scare” to “one of the best horror franchises of all time”.

What are your thoughts, Faithful Reader? Am I simply jaded, or did the “explanation” for the series significantly decrease the horrors implied?

Let’s talk about fear.

The Werewolf of Fever Swamp (TV special)

Image via Wikipedia. This is what our monsters have become.

Hidey-ho, Faithful Readers! I know I have been pretty silent lately, and I beg your forgiveness. As many of you know, last spring I woke up in hideous pain, and it turned out I have a degenerative spinal disease. Since then, I have been trying to deal with pain management and the emotional/mental fallout of being permanently disabled in my early thirties. Slowly but surely, I have been getting a handle on all of this and recovering from the depression and anxiety set off by all of this. I am writing again, and the promised novels, poetry, and short story collection will be coming along…just more slowly.

But while I wanted to reassure my readers and fans that I haven’t died, disappeared, or retired, that is not the point of this post. What I want to do right now is talk about fear…fear in all its forms, flavors, and textures. I want to talk about fear because I feel that the horror genre, as a whole, is suffering from major problems right now. I watch every new horror movie that comes out, mainstream and independent. I also read a lot of the new work coming out and watch the so-called horror TV shows. And I have to say, we have a problem, Faithful Readers, and that problem can be summed up in a single question:

When was the last time you were scared?

I don’t mean scared of not being able to pay the rent or put food on the table. We are living in a period of economic and political instability, and if you aren’t anxious about those issues you either aren’t paying attention or have specifically chosen not to engage with these fears. I also don’t mean the fear of getting robbed in a bad neighborhood or that your spouse/partner will leave you. I mean real fear. Terror. The kind of fear that makes reality itself slip sideways and makes you lay awake in the dark, terrified to move lest “they” realize you’re there. Horror. Terror. Awe. Real fear that used to be the kind of thing writers like myself were trying to tap into.

I can’t remember the last time I was truly afraid in this way. I get glimmers of it every now and then, but those glimmers never come from what the so-called professionals are putting out. Horror movies now are either pathetic remakes of movies from 30 years ago or attempts to make “safe” horror…horror that entertains, that makes us laugh, but does not induce us to sleep with the lights on or question our priorities in life. Horror used to not be safe, remember? Horror used to be able to change us.

The only places I find horror capable of causing these sort of frissons, of inspiring this sort of instability in our personal realities, are the least professional works that exist: the genre of internet media called “creepypasta”…bits of stories and lore patched together on usenet, forums, blogs, and through ARGs (Alternate Reality Games). These works, especially the ones that end up creating an entire mythos unto themselves (check out the Slender Man mythos or “Ben Drowned” for examples of what I am talking about), actually inspire real terror, real fear, as do the blogs and forums that are (ostensibly) telling people’s true stories of interaction with the paranormal (check out From the Shadows, one of the best paranormal blogs I know of, for examples). Indeed, these two genres, the “true” paranormal stories and the creepypasta, overlap…it’s difficult to know what is real and what is meant to be fiction sometimes. And this, of course, leads to a better scare.

It seems to me that the horror genre has gotten stuck in old fears. People in the movies and stories react almost like caricatures of people, rather than resonating with the depth and complexity of real human beings. The fears the stories take up, vampires, werewolves, zombies, and the like…we’re not really afraid of these things. We romanticize them, we reinterpret them, we do any number of things, but it’s pretty safe to say that the stand-by monsters of horror simply aren’t frightening anymore. Serial killers aren’t frightening anymore. Possession isn’t frightening anymore.

Why not? Well, I have a number of theories, and I’m always creating new ones, but the main reason I think these things aren’t frightening anymore is that they are predictable. We have seen them so much and so often that they just don’t scare us. Cthulhu was on South Park and has been made into plushy toys. The most popular vampire of the modern era sparkles in the sunlight, goes to high school at over a century old, and really just wants to be loved. The most popular werewolf is not feared…he is idolized or romantically desired. The zombie is being deconstructed, and we have begun to see movies and shows where zombies are likeable, lovable, funny, and most of all…not scary.

Now, as a writer of speculative fiction of all three types (horror, fantasy, and science fiction), I find myself in a difficult situation. The book that made me want to be a writer was Stephen King’s The Shining. I read it in the first grade (yes, yes, not the best parenting in the world, I know) and I knew, right then, that I wanted to be a writer, and specifically I wanted to be a horror writer. I wanted to be able to inspire the powerful, cathartic terror that changed me forever. Later, I fell in love with other genres and I have written in all of them, but my first love was horror. I wanted to scare people. Not make them laugh, nor make them feel reassured of the moral order they were raised with (horror with a happy ending?). I didn’t want to give pre-teen girls a metaphor for their burgeoning sexuality (or instruct them in how to be a passive, codependent willing victim of abuse…I’m talking to you, Meyer!). I wanted to scare the crap out of people. I wanted them to come out of reading my work forced to view the world differently. I wanted to turn their reality on its ear and leave them screaming.

But how, in the modern era, can I achieve that? The monsters have been used and abused so much that they have turned into inversions and subversions of themselves. The monsters have become metaphors for misunderstood emo kids and fundamentally immature (hence why Edward can fall in love with a teenager and go to high school without it seeming like what it is…creepy pedophilia far beyond Lolita). They stole the monsters that used to plague our nightmares and turned them into ways to sell breakfast cereal.

So what I want to know, Faithful Readers, is this: what scares you? Not a little bit. Not “creeps me out”. Not funny-scary or sexy-scary. Not a metaphor for the insecurity of adolescence or unfamiliar sexuality. Real, unremitting, terror. The sort that, if you were forced to face it, would leave you a drooling, collapsed mess, not inspire you to wear a “Team Edward” t-shirt while writing fan-fiction about the “ultimate bad boy/girl” who changes to a goody-goody because of your pure love. This is the sort of fear I want to hear about. I want to hear about the thoughts, images, and ideas that make death seem like a pleasant release. I want terror.

So tell me. I’m going to leave this post up for a while, so everyone sees it. I want to hear what makes you scream.

Read “Dreams of Fire and Glass Part 2” for Free at the Lovcraft eZine!

The June issue of the Lovecraft eZine is out, Faithful Readers, and you all know what that means…the conclusion of my newest novella, “Dreams of Fire and Glass“, is available to read for FREE. Remember to read Part 1 first if you’re joining us for the first time.

Also appearing in this issue:

The Case of the Galloway Eidolon, by Bruce DurhamThough closed for the evening, the warm, deep shadows cast by the subdued lighting failed to disguise each victim’s grisly demise. Two had received severe chest wounds, their cotton shirts blood-soaked and torn from multiple swings of some bladed instrument. The third had suffered a more ghastly wound, a crushed cranium; the blow slicing bone and opening the forehead down to the mouth. His glazed eyes stared obscenely in opposite directions.  “Ever see anything like it, Holmes?” Lestrade asked…

The Call of the Dance, by William Meikle“What is it Holmes?” I whispered, but my friend did not answer. The glow from the cylinder intensified. At first I thought Holmes was moving in for a closer look, then I saw he was intent on something on the trestle to one side – a journal of some kind. But as he stepped slowly nearer, so the glow grew brighter. I have seen the aurora in Northern climes, and the light that danced there above us in that workshop reminded me of that. But I was not inspired by the same sense of awe – no, this was more like fear, an animal terror of something unworldly, something far beyond my experience...

Unearthly Awakening, by W.H. PugmireAnd so I have come to you, on this foggy day in Providence, and lured you from your little world among the university lads, and held your hand as we walked past the little park adjacent to the shunned house. And we walked the streets where once Poe trod, and climbed down the steps that led to the winding walkway that took us into this enchanting burying ground…

Darius Roy’s Manic Grin, by Brian BarnettDarius Roy shifted his eyes to Dr. Johansson. Dr. Johansson felt his chest tighten. Something about the mania in Mr. Roy’s red-ringed eyes… Something was different about the man. In all his medical years, Dr. Johansson for the first time sat across from a man who he felt threatened by. He, for once, was happy to see a straight jacket in use. But shame bit at him. It was his duty to cure the man, not fear him…

As always, all story artwork is by mimulux!

Please remember that if you like the Lovecraft eZine to LIKE it on Facebook, follow the creator and editor-in-chief Mike Davis @misanthropemike , and to share it with your friends. This is an amazing new publication producing some of the best in underground cosmic horror…give it the support it deserves!

Read Part 1 of “Dreams of Fire and Glass” For Free!

Dreams of Fire and GlassHello, faithful readers! I have a special treat for you to start your weekend with. Not only do you get the first half of my new novella, “Dreams of Fire and Glass” for free over at the Lovecraft eZine, but four other tales of cosmic horror and the macabre:

All the Gold, by Joseph S. Pulver, is a sequel of sorts to his story in last month’s issue, A Meeting On the Trail to Hot Iron: Lotta men throwing their lives around down there under the snowline. Speaking of death and born and suffering. They drink but don’t cross the distance of a prayer. All they carry bleeding in their eyes…

Dreams of Fire and Glass, by Neal Jansons, is part 1 of 2.  It is longer than the typical story that I publish here, but I was so mesmerized by this tale that I knew I had to share it with my readers, hence the decision to publish it into 2 parts: The name of the game was Fire and Glass, and it was brilliant.  That was the only way to describe it. A massively-multiplayer online role-playing game that would make Warcraft look like Hello Kitty Online. The details provided were flawless and omitted nothing, right down to the placement of the stars. The premise: a world much like our own, with normal people leading normal lives, but melded and interspersed with the world of dreams. Ancient cities of crystal and glass shared space with skyscrapers. Eldritch monsters, long forgotten in the ancestral memories of our earliest mammalian ancestors, stalked the shadows alongside muggers and corrupt policemen. Within this realm, one part noir and two parts myth, players lived a life of wonder, fighting monsters, exploring ancient ruins, discovering bizarre creatures, and living out any fantasy…

O, Lad of Memory and Shadow, by W.H. Pugmire. What can I say about Wilum Pugmire?  I love his writing; it’s so surreal.  Reading his stories is like being in a dream: I crept like a frightened girl on silver-sandalled feet beneath an arc of moonlight, toward the House of Shadows. The street of sorrow on which I crept was as hard and cold as reality, and I was eager to be off it. Finally, I arrived at the porch that would lead me into the infamous dwelling, and so I hopped onto its first step…

Draon Star Lucky Food, by John Medaille.  And speaking of surreal, I know you’ll enjoy John’s story.  It can’t be described, it can only be read: So, honey.  So, I went to that Chinese grocery store, that one you don’t like to go to because you think it smells weird.  It used to be an Alpha-Beta.  I had some time to kill and I’ve always liked things that are exotic and cheap.  I guess I was kind of just loitering around…

Curse the Child, by David J. West, is a story I’m told that made it to the final round of the Historical Lovecraft anthology.  I’m happy to have been given the chance to publish it, and I know you’ll enjoy reading it: Declaring the stars were right, Solomon, Sheba and the boy prepared the invocation of the Outer Gods. The world would be reborn, reorganized in their image. In the garden and vineyards of Gehenna, signs were drawn in blood and glyphs carved into stone and wood. The moon hung overhead uncaring…

So get over to the Lovecraft eZine and take a journey into cosmic horror and remember: if you like what you read, pass it on!

Happy Birthday to W.H. Pugmire, the Queen of Eldritch Horror!

For those of you not in the know, W.H. Pugmire is one of the premier writers of modern “weird tales” and a lot of fun on YouTube. His collections of short stories and the setting of Sesqua Valley both do justice to the specter of Lovecraft and push the boundaries of “acceptable” interpretations of reality (as any good weird tale should).

Horror writer W.H. Pugmire

Head over to any of his links or take a look at his YouTube channel and wish this scribbler a happy birthday

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And check out his incredible fiction:

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You can also find his work on the awesome Lovecraft Ezine, edited by Mike Davis.

So from me to you, Wilum: Happy Birthday! Can I get an ia ia ftagn, people?