Tag Archives: Horror

Black Eyed Dog

23. A Winter Haunting – Dan Simmons

Return of Duane! Yay! Well, not really, but Duane’s notebooks and Duane’s house and Duane’s intelligence are all at work in A Winter Haunting. Thankfully. Duane ruled.

You really can’t stop those Elm Haven supernatural occurrences. They’re the can’t stop, won’t stop of middle of nowhere, Illinois. I enjoyed this one, not as much as Summer of Night, but, it’s worth reading just for the connections to Summer of Night and the Duane-ness. It’s a psychological horror story about returning to your hometown after screwing up your whole life, isolation, and Egyptology.

Some people, not unlike my Finny-pig, just settle into a fleece blankie and cuddle away the winter in a non-haunted place. It’s a choice

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“We had the best time at your party”

22. Scare Care – Graham Masterton, ed.

Graham Masterton, master of the vulgar description, is responsible for this short story collection. He established the “Scare Care Trust, a charity set up to fund organizations that help abused and endangered children” get access to vulgar descriptions. Not really. It’s a nice thing from the 1980s. I didn’t research whether or not the trust is still in operation because I am apparently heartless when it comes to endangered 1980s children. Sorry. I watched several of those farm accident videos. Desensitized. Never rest!

Baby Finny also doesn’t care about endangered 1980s children. He is not sorry. He didn’t even watch Apaches (Thank you, Grady Hendrix, for introducing me to Apaches, my mom has the silverware they’re setting the table for the “party” with).

Anyway, all the stories were donated and I shan’t go in to all 38 of them, but here are some of the ones that struck me in particular.

Kit Reed – “Mommy” – This story is based around the question: “Where did the hundred pounds she lost go?” Kit Reed is one author I will always read. She really is a master of feminist horror. Also, she validates many of my lifestyle choices as non-horrific, despite what others might say.

James Robert Smith – “Things Not Seen” – One of the more affecting stories, super short, super impact. “Do you think they’ll like Sonny?”

Ozma likes Baby Finny. She likes not-baby Finny now too.

James Herbert – “Breakfast” – Excellent, another short punch about a woman and her family in the post-apocalypse. Images that really get into your head. Very sticky.

C. Dean Anderson – “Night Watch” – This begins with a killer squirrel. We like that around here .

Jeff Gelb – “Family Man” – A nice little take about accidentally getting a nice ghost family when you buy a new house.

Baby Finny wants a ghost family. He’s not getting one.

Gile Gordon – “A Towpath Tale” – This was one of the more disturbing things I’ve read about a man and his bitch.

Brian Lumley – “David’s Worm” – Don’t let kids go into the garbage at your lab or they’ll become one with an amorphous blob they grew. He named it “Planny.” You can’t give things names or they’ll never go away. Think of Mr. Peppy on Futurama and always remember that lesson from Hermes.

Graham Masterton – “Changeling” – This reminded me of that Angel episode that introduced me to VAST. Gender-swapping as STD is a bit more disturbing, also, now I realize that It Follows owes a heavy debt to Angel’s first season.

Non-baby Finny is still not sorry. But he is interested in more horror-focused short story collections from the 1980s.

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“Truth hasn’t been too popular these days.” (Arnold in The Running Man movie from 1987, Oh the irony is so painful.)

33. The Bachman Books: The Running Man – Richard Bachman

Sooooo…this book makes me uncomfortable now because I feel like it’s the near future rather than a dystopian nightmare – and not just because it takes place in 2025. Dude.

There’s a lot going on in this story but the main things that stay with me are how consistent the demonization of poverty, the covering up of scandal, and the ridiculous value system are with our current era. Yikes.

To calm myself, I watched the film version, which is a little more ostentatious than the book and features Dweezil Zappa (namesake of my second ever guinea pig) in a Che Guevara outfit. I really hope that we’re in the unitard/Richard Dawson phase by the time the Mueller investigation indicts that moldy orange who was mistakenly put in charge for, well, pick your poison at this point there seems to be a lot of it. Money laundering’s pretty much a given and since he likes the idea of being popular, him running from a variety of celebrities with weapons sounds like a fun trial. I think it would get good ratings, and apparently that’s all that’s important anymore.

The running pig. Danger Crumples.

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Climate change is making it a little harder to get frostbite in many areas. That’s not good though.

73. Frostbitten – Kelley Armstrong

Werewolves in the snow! Whee!

Elena and Clay tracking mutts in Alaska and running into the kind of criminal stuff that characters in urban fantasy stories always seem to run into no matter where they take place. I’m in the middle of nowhere – oh look! Crime! Supernaturals committing crimes! Sigh.

It’s a quick read, but does manage to expand Armstrong’s werewolves nicely with a werewolf that actually lives with wolves. It was brisk and I’m always happy to read when Armstrong focuses on Elena. She’s definitely her strongest character.

Ozma approves of fellow blonde (well, Ozma’s golden and Hershey Kiss-faced), strong character Elena as well. One day, Ozma will also fight supernatural crime.

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Face Your Demons – Supernatural starts now, on TNT

36. Skin of the Soul – Lisa Tuttle, ed.

This beautifully titled short story collection is subtitled “New horror stories by women” and was published by The Women’s Press, London, in 1990. It features some familiar writers like Karen Joy Fowler, Joyce Carol Oates, Tuttle herself, and Joan Aiken (who I mainly know from her Edward Gorey illustrated Wolves of Willoughby Chase and other wolf books); it also features several writers I’ve never heard of and two of those are from Texas and their stories in the anthology are some of their earliest professional publications. That’s pretty cool.

Peregrine is basically a professional model for paintings and photos. That’s also pretty cool. Muse pigs are cool.

Here are some of my thoughts about the stories that stood out to me:

Melanie Tem – “Lightning Rod” – A literally horrific exploration of that martyr complex women are societally bred to have. Oh, I’ll do this thing that hurts – No, I will! And so on and so on until someone collapses under the weight of trying to please everyone. This story was both scary and exhausting.

Suzy McKee Charnas – “Boobs” – A very fun little werewolf story.

Karen Joy Fowler – “The Night Wolf” – Different kind of wolf. Not fun.

This is as close to howling at the moon as Pere’s going to get.

Ann Walsh – “Getting Away From It All” – Very reminiscent of Jack Torrance at the bar in The Shining, except, in this story, the mom isn’t blaming everyone else for her own issues. It’s vague and surreal and also quite grounded in that “I was trying to do something nice!” feeling that can exhaust and overwhelm us.

There are quite a few pieces in this collection that really pick at parts of me and so for once I’m reviewing a horror collection that actually got under my skin. Nice work/Damn it, ladies.

Lisa Tuttle – “Mr. Elphinstone’s Hands” – So much mucus in this story. SO much. It’s slimy and sticky and evokes the shame of hyperhidrosis and living in the spiritualist times and paranoia and, well, yuck.

Peregrine knows which dead piggies she’d like to conjure with mucus hands but…no one in this house has ectoplasmic abilities. Sorry, Pere.

G.K. Sprinkle – “Serena Sees” – Quite the tense evening over the psychic lines. The anger that people use as an excuse to hurt other who haven’t actually done anything to them comes through in this story – especially the anger of an entitled dude who didn’t get what he wanted. A smile. A correct psychic prediction. A date. All resulting in some dude who thinks he has the right to hurt women.

Melissa Mia Hall – “Listening” – The earring tells her things. Things that no one will listen to…like the many times I have correctly predicted something bad happening (a broken window, for instance) that wouldn’t have happened if the persons involved had just listened to me. I don’t even have a magic earring. My ears aren’t even pierced. Still no one listens.

Anne Goring – “Hantu-Hantu” – A Barb and Nancy for 1990. Except in this story, Nancy gets the roaches. She goes after the guy, gets “chosen” in the swampy tropics, and gets the roaches. Barb…well, she still basically gets to go the Upside Down and she kinda gets the roaches too.

You just go ahead and try to give Pere the roaches. She’ll come out of the log tunnel and cut you. With her mind. Also maybe her very sharp incisors.

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Not quite horror, but there are horror elements. Several. Enough.

1. Greywalker – Kat Richardson

Harper Blaine is the “Just the facts, ma’am,” type of P.I. with a supernatural edge. She really reminds me of Rhona Mitra, so if there’s ever a film version, that’s my actress suggestion. In a way, she’s quite cold as a heroine and I really liked that. A lady character doesn’t have to be overly empathetic and it’s nice to see some emotionally distant main characters who know they are emotionally distant. Her best connection is with her ferret, Chaos, and I wholly support that as a reader. The importance of pets is often overlooked. I cannot say that I wasn’t worried that Chaos would then die in the story as that tends to happen to animals that resonate, but, I’m now seven books into the series and Chaos is still going strong – her care is still specified in a sentence or two, never just overlooked for plot speed. That’s good.

This is the first in the Greywalker series and so there’s a lot of world building, but it didn’t get boring. Harper does make a lot of phone calls and does a lot of parking, though. Sometimes the logistical details can make things a bit dry, but the way Richardson writes, it seems to me that the logistics are there to settle your senses for the unrealities – which are quite easy to visualize. It’s also set in Seattle, which really works as a setting for anything with “grey” in it and mist…

Duncan comes in on little guinea pig feet. She sits- well, she’s standing here, but we’re parodying Sandburg so- she sits, looking over bedroom and beyond, on silent haunches, and then moves on.

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“When you grow up, your heart dies.”

44. Vampire Academy – Richelle Mead

The design of the movie version of this book is excellent; especially the color choices for the marketing materials and the soundtrack. It’s very process red and neon green and that’s great for what it is – a so deep it’s shallow friends and vampires story with some sex and violence.

It’s easy to tell that Mead did some significant mythological research and I feel like maybe she researched traits for sassy heroines as well… The connections in teen novels are often built on life or death overdramatics, and in Vampire Academy they didn’t feel earned to me. I still don’t entirely buy Rose’s devotion to Lissa, in part because Lissa felt like a total cipher of vampire royalty to me and also because I don’t buy Rose. Maybe all vampire royalty are total ciphers. Maybe all sassy teenagers who are full of themselves just don’t work for me, even though I did enjoy Holden Caulfield when I read Catcher in the Rye (which might have a lot to do with the writing and angst being palpable instead of told…). In the film I didn’t buy Rose and Lissa’s relationship either, even with emotional facial expressions. In the book, I felt like I was being told a lot of emotionally significant to the narrative things by a narrator who wasn’t actually capable of accessing their vulnerability (even without knowing it, like so many good narrating characters), so it just didn’t ring true- which is one of the problems with the YA boom. Don’t write down to teenagers.

Danger Crumples, guinea pig royalty with excellent, nay, immaculate design.

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Moral of the story: Don’t go to your neighbor’s parties if you live in a named building in New York City.

12. Audrey’s Door – Sarah Langan

Some of this reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby and The Sentinel. Move in to the wrong apartment building, especially by yourself, and all hell breaks loose. Or, more accurately, the slowly creeping hell breaks loose. Audrey is in the middle of dealing with a break up and moves into The Breviary and finds that she has weirdo neighbors and fun new building compulsions – just the thing for an architect.

Finny is a different brand of slowly creeping horror. The cute kind. The adorable creeping horror.

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The body of an angel and the head of a wood owl

  1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism – Grady Hendrix

Hendrix has definitely made some novelist progress since Horrorstor. There are many details in My Best Friend’s Exorcism that really work – the descriptions of Charleston and summer activities in the south in general, the extreme specifics of cassette destruction, and lots and lots of fluids (although I can’t say I ever associated pickles with cadaver labs and I frankly don’t want to, I’ve never thought formalin and pickles had a similar scent either). The description of Margaret in her bed was stomach churning. And I very deeply understood what Abby’s mom was on about when she told her that her rich friends would use her as a scapegoat. I understand that position better than I ever wanted to, the powerful trying to keep the powerless in their place. The book also reads like a shot and I did stay up to keep going to find a non-paranoia inducing scene the second night I was reading it. I have very specific memories of the first time I watched The Exorcist that were invoked reading this (damn it, Regan-me similarities, you still bother me!) and those never make me feel comfortable going to sleep. My imagination is very strong and will not be denied.

On the other hand, the sense that I was being told too many things bothered me at several points. These characters were stronger than the ones in Horrorstor, but they’re still being written with a sense of remove – like they were conceptualized as types and not people and there’s some fight against that but the distance won. The exorcism itself also didn’t work for me; it seemed to go by really quickly and there was a lot of time and build up of what was going on with Gretchen that just didn’t square with the way the exorcism happened. Maybe if WHAM! had been involved instead of Phil Collins. You know Phil Collins made some kind of deal…you know it.

“The power of Phil is not compelling, Belvedere! I didn’t even like ‘Sussudio’!” Pickles will not be exorcised. She was never possessed, so it makes sense.

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“Is this heaven?”

44. Blood Farm – Sam Siciliano

The cover of this 1988 horror trade paperback is awesome. The title is perfect for an “Iowa Gothic” as it is labeled. That is where the awesome ends, unfortunately.

There are some strong images, the hippie driving the hearse is an amiable fellow, the damsel in distress is damsely and very 70s with the hitchhiking and such, and the highways covered in snow are aptly described. I also appreciated the very 1970s aesthetic of the apartment interior description… It falls apart in terms of the horror. It’s brutally obvious and gets rapey and well, the setting basically means nothing (kind of like the extremely cold Southern Gothic I read earlier this year, Who Made Stevie Crye? [sub-disclosure, I remembered the title as “What Makes Stevie Crye?” and that’s probably because a lot of the book made me want to cry(e)]) and that disappointed me a lot because I’m Iowan. There’s lots of Gothic to extract from the Iowa winter landscape and farms. I’ve seen some desolation, perhaps it is up to me to properly “Iowa Gothic.” To be fair, the one time I tried clove cigarettes and didn’t inhale seems like a more apt description of “Iowa Gothic” for me, which doesn’t bode well for the genre.

Danger Crumples and Horace engage in a tense scene from their Guinea Pig Gothic drama where they are friends and part of the same long lasting herd, but sometimes Danger is compelled by his dementia to be not friends and Horace wants the will re-written so he can inherit the unholy legacy of having as many little toys as Danger Crumples. It’s a real page turner. A flip book.

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