Horror


The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder: Strickland respectfully continues this series

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

Thanks to author Brad Strickland, who picked up John Bellairs’ children’s series after Bellairs’ death, the LEWIS BARNAVELT adventures continue with the fifth installment, The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (1993). Surprisingly, I can detect no difference between the writing styles of the two authors. Strickland continues this series with the utmost respect for Bellairs’ vision and characters.

In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder we learn what Lewis and his uncle Jonathan were doing while Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman were having their own adventure in Read More

My Heart is a Chainsaw: Jones nails the slasher-film tone perfectly

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

There is so much to like in Stephen Graham JonesMy Heart is a Chainsaw (2021): a can’t-help-but-root-for-her main character, a prom-worthy bucketload of slasher-film references, a wry and sometimes bitingly funny narrative voice, so many red herrings the reader’s gonna need a bigger boat, deftly handled themes exploring race, gentrification, class, parenting (familial and communal), and trauma, and a climax that contains more blood than you can hold in a bank of elevators. So much to like, in fact, that my only real criticism is that there’s too much here, leading to a book that despite its many positives unfortunately begins to feel it has, like Jason or Michael, overstayed its welcome.

Jade (real name Jennifer, but don’t ever call her that... Read More

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring: Rose Rita in the spotlight

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring by John Bellairs

The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring (1976) is the third novel in John BellairsLEWIS BARNAVELT series for kids. Each is a stand-alone horror mystery. It’s not necessary to read them in order but it’d be ideal, if you can, to start with the first book, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, because that’s the one in which we watch Lewis, recently orphaned, come to live in the house of his uncle, a jovial man who’s a bit of a magician. In the second book, The Figure in the Shadows, you’ll meet Rose Rita, a tomboy who’s Lewis’... Read More

The Figure In The Shadows: Exciting, scary, and sweet

The Figure In The Shadows by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt, 11 years old and recently orphaned, has been settling in at his uncle’s house. It's 1949, about a year since we saw him last (in The House With a Clock in Its Walls) and he has made a new friend – a tomboy named Rose Rita.

When Uncle Jonathan opens a trunk owned by his father (Lewis’s grandfather), Lewis, a lover of history, is bequeathed with his grandfather’s lucky coin. When he begins wearing the coin around his neck, weird things start happening to Lewis. He gets strange postcards in the middle of the night. He suddenly overcomes his cowardice and punches a bully. He fights with Rose Rita and becomes suspicious of her. He gets the feeling that someone is following him.

Lewis is coming undone but, thankfully, he has a few people w... Read More

Revelator: A high-proof distillation of horror

Revelator by Daryl Gregory

Stella Birch sees her family’s god when she is nine years old, in 1933. Her father has dropped her off in a sheltered valley, the cove, in the Smoky Mountains. He says he’s leaving her with Motty, her grandmother, while he looks for work, but he’s never coming back.

Daryl Gregory’s 2021 southern gothic horror novel Revelator trades in bone-deep horror, stunning beauty, strangeness, and acid-etched banter. Moving between two timelines, Stella’s time with Motty in the cove and her present life as a moonshiner in 1948, the novel reveals the secret of the Birch women and the god in the mountain, and includes interesting bits of history, like the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park, which will inclu... Read More

Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In Ring Shout (2020), P. Djèlí Clark melds two types of horror, Lovecraftian monsters and the bloody rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 Georgia, as a group of black resistance fighters take on an enemy with frightening supernatural powers.

As Ku Klux Klan members march down the streets of Macon, Georgia on the Fourth of July, Maryse Boudreaux, who narrates the story, watches from a rooftop with her two companions, sharpshooter Sadie and former soldier Cordelia “Chef” Lawrence, a bomb expert. They’ve baited a trap for the “Ku Kluxes,” who are hellish demons that hide in disguise among the Klan humans, taking over the bodies of the worst of them. The trap works, but the silver pellets and iron slags contained in the bomb aren’... Read More

A Broken Darkness: Nick’s in more trouble than ever

A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed

At the end of Beneath the Rising, the first book in Premee Mohamed’s cosmic horror trilogy of the same name, I thought narrator Nick Prasad couldn’t be worse off. Yes, he and his prodigy friend Joanna “Johnny” Chambers had closed an interdimensional rift and stopped the Ancient Ones from invading earth, but at the end Nick is left heartbroken, betrayed and disillusioned by what he has learned about Johnny. Like I said, I didn’t think it could get worse for him.

I was so wrong.

This review contains mild spoilers for Beneath the Rising.

Johnny and Nick did manage to close the rift, but it was open for nearly two minutes. In that time period,... Read More

Beowulf: He was the man!

Beowulf: A New Translation by Maria Dahvana Headley

A couple of years ago I read Maria Dahvana Headley’s The Mere Wife (2018) which was a finalist for the Locus Award in 2019. Set in a wealthy suburb, the story was a promoted as a “modern retelling of Beowulf” and told from the perspectives of the mothers. I admired this novel and was therefore eager to read Headley’s new translation of Beowulf which also happens to be a Locus Award finalist in the Horror category this year.

While The Mere Wife was billed as a “retelling,” Beowulf: A New Translation is, as promised, a new modern translation of the epic poem. In the introduction to the piece, Headley explains her love of the poem (she’s been obsessed with it since seeing an illustration of Grendel... Read More

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires: Hilarious and horrifying

The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Patricia Campbell and her neighbors are housewives in Charleston, South Carolina. Looking for friendship and something to talk about other than their husbands, children, housekeeping, and other neighbors, they form a book club. True Crime is their genre of choice.

After the ladies read Helter Skelter, Patricia laments that nothing exciting ever happens in their neighborhood:
“But don’t you wish that something exciting would happen around here?” Patricia asked. “Just once?”

Grace raised her eyebrows at Patricia.

“You wish that a gang of unwashed hippies would break into your house and murder your family and write ‘death to pigs’ in human blood on your walls because you don’t want to pack lunches anymore?”

“Well, not when you put it like ... Read More

SHORTS: Hugo and Locus Award finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novelette and short story categories.

“Wait for Night” by Stephen Graham Jones (2020, free at Tor.com)

Chessup is a day laborer working as part of a crew outside of Boulder, Colorado, helping to clean up a creek that was filled with trash in the aftermath of a flood. At the end of the day, looking to borrow a battery from the crew’s bulldozer to jumpstart his old car, Chessup finds something very old tangled up in the roots of a tree that the bulldozer had pulled down.

With visions of selling his discovery to a pawnbroker for cash, Chessup sets about removing it from the tangle of tree roots. He’s about to leave when his co-worker Burned Dan, who wears a bandanna over his fac... Read More

The Ghost Tree: A well-rendered 1980s slasher that could have gone farther

The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

After I read Christina Henry’s 2020 horror novel The Ghost Tree, I did a bit of research on the writer. It seems like she is well-known for retelling fairy tales, usually with a dark (or darker) twist than the original. The Ghost Tree is not a fairy tale, as far as I can tell, although it has some fairy-tale elements. It’s a 1980s-style slasher horror novel. By the way, that’s what I thought I was getting when I bought it, so there is no mislabeling going on here.

Lauren DeMucci, nearly fifteen, has weighty problems on her shoulders. The year before, her father was murdered in the woods near their house, his heart torn out. The town police haven’t made any progress on solving the murder. Lauren’s best friend since the second grade, Mi... Read More

The Crossroads at Midnight: An excellent collection of five horror stories

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard (words & art)

In this wonderfully disturbing collection of five short horror stories in a 340-page book, Abby Howard takes us on five very different journeys. The Crossroads at Midnight is a near-perfect collection of tales, with flowing artwork that makes the horrific quite surprising when it makes its appearance. In the first story, “The Girl In the Fields,” we meet a teenager — about fifteen-years-old — who is misunderstood by their parents. They call their daughter by their given name — Francine. However, Francine insists on being called Frankie. Her less-than-progressive parents seem to be always ready to pick a fight with Frankie, and they are so intrusive as to read private information off of Frankie’s computer. Frankie does not back down from these fights, but does retreat to the backyard to lean against the fence crying. She is interrupted by a kind voic... Read More

SHORTS: 2020/21 Awards finalists

This week's SHORTS column features some of the 2020 Nebula and 2021 Locus and Hugo award finalists in the novella, novelette, and short story categories.

“A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad (2020, free at Tor.com, originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution)

This is an absolutely delightful story! A grumpy robot, Constant Killer, who makes a living by engaging in robot deathmatch and assassination games, is obliged to mentor a chirpy, innocent new robot who is having problems with its life, ranging from “how do I remove illusionary dogs from my optical feed” to dealing with adverse working conditions at a cheap automated café. What begins as a meeting between opposite personalities gradually evolves into an unlikely friendship.
Read More

Available Dark: Chills, in more than one sense of the word

Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand

It’s been a few months since the events of Generation Loss, and Cass Neary, strapped for cash, has made a big mistake. In that previous book, she took pictures of someone’s death but told the police she wasn’t at the scene. She never meant to publish any of the photos. Whoops. So, with the police and the dead person’s son asking awkward questions, and Cass in need of money again, it seems like a great time to take a gig that will absent her from the country for a while.

Available Dark (2012) takes Cass to Helsinki, where she is tasked with examining a series of gory photographs and verifying that they are authentic and that the series is complete. The pictures show people killed in ways that evoke a group of spirits called the Yuleboys, and it’s pretty clear that if ... Read More

Generation Loss: A seductive brew of creepiness, melancholy, and weird religion

Generation Loss by Elizabeth Hand

Generation Loss (2007) is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and the first in Elizabeth Hand’s CASS NEARY thriller series. Cass is a washed-up, alcoholic photographer who was briefly famous in the 1970s for her images of the punk scene. Now middle-aged, she’s struggling, and a friend offers her a job interviewing another photographer, Aphrodite Kamestos, who had her own heyday in the 50s and 60s and now lives reclusively on a remote Maine island.

The job quickly proves to be harder than Cass expected. It’s much too cold for Cass’s New York wardrobe. The locals are aloof. People and cats have been mysteriously disappearing. And Aphrodite had no idea Cass was coming. Cass wants to leave, but circumstances keep her in Maine longer than she intended — which pos... Read More

Ninth House: Black magic in Yale’s secret societies

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern (the name courtesy of her hippie mother) seems an obvious misfit at prestigious Yale University. Wealth, athletic talent and academic stardom are nowhere to be found in Alex’s life. Instead she’s a high school dropout with a history of dead-end jobs and drug use, and the survivor of a traumatic multiple homicide. But she has a rare talent that to date has brought her nothing but grief: Alex sees the ghosts of dead people.

As it turns out, that talent is highly useful to Yale’s eight elite secret societies, and they’ve had their eye on Alex for a while. Each of these houses specializes in a different type of black magic — Skull and Bones, for example, performs ritual vivisections of living people, examining their inner organs to predict stock market changes — and these dark rituals attract ghosts. A nin... Read More

The Dark Chamber: Grandisonant and venust

The Dark Chamber by Leonard Cline

Just recently, I had some words to say concerning British author J. B. Priestley’s chilling second novel, Benighted, which was released in 1927. But, as it turns out, that was not the only atmospheric and genuinely unnerving horror exercise to come out that year. On the other side of the pond, Michigan-born author Leonard Cline, in his third novel, The Dark Chamber, would create a work so very macabre that it would later earn enthusiastic praise in H. P. Lovecraft’s renowned essay entitled “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Cline, who was 34 when this novel was released, would ultimately gain some minor renown as the author o... Read More

Benighted: Book vs. film

Benighted by J.B. Priestley

While growing up in the 1960s, I used to love whenever one of the local TV channels would show one of British director James Whale’s Big 3 horror movies, all from Universal Studios: Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933) and, perhaps best of all, the eternal glory that is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). What I was unaware of back then was the fact that there was a fourth Universal horror film directed by Whale, and that bit of youthful ignorance was not entirely my fault. Whale’s The Old Dark House (1932) was, for many years, considered a lost film, and it was not until 1968 that Curtis Harrington (himself the director of such horror gems as Queen of Blood, What’s the Matter With Helen? and Read More

The Hollow Places: I read it in one sitting because I was afraid to put it down

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

 … and we watched the willow branches bow outward from the passing, and it was invisible except that invisible was not the right word, because its not-there-ness hung in the air like an afterimage.

The Hollow Places (2020), by T. Kingfisher, reminded me a lot of the other folk-horror novel of hers I read recently, The Twisted Ones. Both take place in or close to small southern towns, both have alternate realities, protagonists coming to town to help a relative, and discovered manuscripts. Both were inspired by earlier works of horror or Weird. (This one was inspired by “The Willows” by Algernon Blackw... Read More

The Bat Woman: A middling horror novel in a sloppy presentation

The Bat Woman by Cromwell Gibbons

As some of you may have discerned, my favorite type of reading matter these days has been the science fiction, fantasy and horror books from the period 1900 - 1950, and so I am always on the lookout for modern-day publishers issuing new editions of these often out-of-print works. Case in point: Bruin Books, from Eugene, Oregon, which, a few years back, made it possible for me to finally obtain a reasonably priced copy of Paul Bailey’s wonderful horror novel Deliver Me From Eva (1946). I was thus happy to read that Bruin has recently released a whole slew of horror works under its new Bruin Asylum label, and choosing at random, I selected the book in question, Cromwell GibbonsThe Bat Woman (193... Read More

Abel Salazar Triple Feature: Three doozies from south of the border

Abel Salazar Triple Feature directed by Chano Urueta and Rafael Baledon

Are you ready to settle in with an absolutely dynamite and horrifying triple feature one weekend this autumnal season? Well, then, have I got a doozie for you! These three terror treats from south of the border, all made in the early 1960s, may come as a stunning surprise for the jaded horror viewer who thinks he/she has seen it all. The Mexican filmmakers in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s were enjoying a kind of Golden Age, certainly as regards as the horror film, and the three pictures that I have chosen to spotlight here, all from producer/actor Abel Salazar — and all to varying degrees influenced by the Universal horror outings of the 1940s — are some of the very best of the bunch. I will give my brief thoughts on these three wonderful films in the order that I first saw them, which also happens to mean that I will be discussing the least of the three first, and the film that I dee... Read More

The Devil’s Hand: The Hole shebang

The Devil’s Hand directed by William J. Hole, Jr.

In the 1943 film The Seventh Victim, just one of nine brilliant horror films produced by Val Lewton for RKO that decade, a character played by Kim Hunter comes to NYC to look for her missing sister, and discovers that that sister has joined a secretive, devil-worshipping cult in the heart of Greenwich Village. It is a superior horror outing, as are all the other Lewton horror outings, featuring wonderful acting, a sharp and compact script, and – typical for these Lewton affairs – a deliciously eerie atmosphere throughout. Flash forward 18 years, and we find still another film dealing with a secret devil cult hidden away in the heart of a great American metropolis, but with nowhere near the previous film’s artful skill and enduring class. That later film is The Devil’s Hand, which was shot in 1959 but not distributed until two years later. Originally released as part of a double bill th... Read More

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy: Diez perfecto on the fun scale

The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy directed by Rafael Portillo

It was at NYC’s legendary Thalia Theater on W. 95th St. in Manhattan where I first saw the Mexican wonder known as The Wrestling Women vs. the Aztec Mummy (1964), paired with the Ed Wood-scripted The Bride and the Beast (1958) to make for one truly mind-boggling double feature. Ah, what a great theater that was! OK, time for Tales From My Misspent Youth, chapter 135: The Thalia, back when (I’m talking about the late ‘70s/very early ‘80s here), was a wonderful place to see a double feature of this sort, its rear section (a “balcony” reached by climbing one or two steps, if memory serves) permitting smoking…of all manner of dry goods. As for the first film on the bill, my main recollection of that showing was the stoned-out audience laughing uproariously every time one of the characters therein mentioned the word “codex,” an object that served as the Hitchcockian MacGuffi... Read More

Wolfen: There goes the neighborhood…

Wolfen directed by Michael Wadleigh

I well remember loving Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen, back when it was first released. The book was atmospheric as could be and managed to do something that all good horror novels of its ilk should do: make the reader believe in the possibility of the supernatural. The book was most assuredly unsettling, and one that this reader has not forgotten, even 40+ years after experiencing it. But despite my love of that book, somehow, I never got around to seeing the film that was made from it, three years later. Released in July ’81, Wolfen (why the name was changed is a matter best asked of the Hollywood production team that doubtless spent hours wondering if the dropped “The” would lead to more ticket sales) turned out to be something of a box office flop, pulling in only $10 million after being produced for $17 million. Today, the viewer can only wonder why, as it is most assur... Read More

The Beast Within: Born on the bayou

The Beast Within directed by Philippe Mora

In the February 1974 TV movie A Case of Rape, Ronny Cox portrayed a man whose wife, played by Elizabeth Montgomery, is raped and beaten not once, but twice by the same man. The film was an enormous success, and indeed remains the most-watched TV film in NBC history. But few could have foreseen that almost precisely eight years later, Cox would again play the part of a husband whose wife undergoes a violent rape, but this time with far more dire results. The film in question is The Beast Within, which was initially released in February 1982. This film, far from being a hit, was something of a flop at the box office, pulling in a mere $8 million, and has gone on to be critically reviled ever since. Thus, it was with a sense of what I like to call “cinematic masochism” that I sat down to watch this film just the other night for the first time. And after all the bad word of mouth, including the esteeme... Read More