Horror


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

Horror Rises From the Tomb & Panic Beats: Talking head

Horror Rises From the Tomb & Panic Beats directed by Carlos Aured & Paul Naschy

Looking for a good creepy double feature to help you pass the time one stormy October evening? I’ve got a doozy for you. Hang tight!

HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB

As if to prove the old adage "you can't keep a good man down," the 1973 Spanish film Horror Rises From the Tomb gives us the story of 15th century Satanist Alaric du Marnac. When we first encounter this demonic figure, he and his consort, Mabille de Lancre (Helga Line), are about to be executed by torture and decapitation in the France of 1454. (This opening scene, it must be noted, almost seems an homage to the similar opening in Mario Bava's classic Black Sunday, except here, we have a male Satanist and a female helper, instead of the other way around.) Flash forward 520 years or so, and Alaric's blood descendant (also played by the film's screenwriter, Paul ... Read More

The Babadook: The horror from Down Under

The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent

When the Australian horror film The Babadook was released here in the U.S. in November 2014, 10 months after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, it was moderately successful at the box office and received almost universal praise from the critics. Somehow, I managed to miss the film back then (I happen to miss most new releases, actually, in my quest to see as many great classic/old films on the big screen as possible at NYC’s several revival houses), but have wanted to see it ever since, especially inasmuch as the film holds an almost unprecedented 98% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website! A recent showing on one of the Showtime stations has finally enabled me to catch up with this truly frightening picture, however; one that has grown into something of a cult item and cause célèbre since its release six years ago. I knew absolutely nothing about the film when I sat down to watch it t... Read More

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?: Psycho biddy, qu’est-ce que c’est?

Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? directed by Curtis Harrington

Ever since the Brothers Grimm recorded the fairy tale forever known afterward as “Hansel and Gretel,” way back in 1812, its story has been well known to successive generations. We have heard the story since childhood: how the two poor children are lured into the witch’s gingerbread house and trapped therein, only to be fed all kinds of goodies by the evil witch to fatten them up, and of how the two kids ultimately turn the tables on the evil crone, stealing her treasure and burning her alive in her own oven. Flash forward around 160 years, and the world was given what is in essence a modern-day retelling of this classic tale, in the British film Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? A horror story that manages to keep a fairly light tone throughout, never really rising to the level of shocks that one might hope for and expect, the film yet manages to please, largely by dint of its talented players and a co... Read More

The Entity: A nerve-racking horror wringer

The Entity directed by Sidney J. Furie

According to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey of 2016, a full 80 percent of all rapes in the U.S.A. go unreported. When asked to account for this staggering statistic, 20 percent of all victims surveyed said that the reason for this lack of reporting was a fear of retaliation; 13 percent said they felt the police would be ineffective at helping them; another 13 percent said that it was a personal matter that they wished to keep private; 8 percent seemed to feel that it was no big deal (!); and, stunningly, 7 percent did not wish to get their attacker into trouble with the law. The net result is that out of every 1,000 rape attacks in this country, only five of the perpetrators ever wind up going to jail. And these statistics, as I say, are from just four years ago. So one can only imagine the stigma that a rape victim might have endured 40 years ago, and the hesitancy that that victim might ... Read More

Demons and Demons 2: Show me Demoni!

Demons and Demons 2 directed by Lamberto Bava

Originally released in October 1985 under the Italian title Demoni, Lamberto Bava’s fifth film enjoyed a marginal success in the director’s native Italy, and the following year was released in the U.S. under the title Demons. The film was popular enough to spawn a sequel, 1986’s Demoni 2, which was very much in keeping with its predecessor; a perfect follow-up, really. Here are some brief thoughts on both of these cult items, for your one-stop Demons shopping … just in case you are thinking to yourself now “Show me Demoni!”

DEMONS

Old-fashioned horror fans who still esteem such cinematic virtues as characterization, logic and explanations may come away from director Lamberto (son of Mario) Bava's first film, Demons (1985), a trifle disappointed, as this film contains ... well, none of those attributes. This loud, ... Read More

Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

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’t enough to kill the three monsters that rise out of the wreckage ... Read More

White Zombie: The original zombie film

White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin

As I mentioned in my recent review of the 1936 nonthriller Revolt of the Zombies, this film was a belated follow-up of sorts (it is hardly a sequel, as many claim) to 1932’s White Zombie, the original zombie picture, but whereas that original had been an artfully constructed wonder, the latter film was something of a labor to sit through; a movie about the revivified living dead featuring terrible editing, laughable thesping, risible special effects and, worst of all, not a single scary moment to be had. The contrast between the two films, despite the fact that both were products of the Halperin brothers (Arkansas-born director Victor and producer Edward), is a striking one; a contrast that was only strengthened for this viewer yesterday, after watching the 1932 film once again. Released in July of that year, Whit... Read More

The Only Good Indians: Read it with all the lights on

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

When I was a kid growing up in Montana, hunting was a steadfast part of my family’s life. Elk, deer (mulies and white-tails), antelope, pheasant — if you wanted to eat it, you had to go out into the snow-covered woods before the break of dawn and hope that you would find something early enough that you wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the day dragging the cleaned carcass back to your truck. There were rules, of course: respect nature to the point of veneration; don’t shoot what you don’t have a permit for; don’t shoot anything you don’t intend to kill; don’t kill more than you need. The cardinal rule, the one impressed the hardest into my mind, was that you don’t set foot anywhere that you don’t have permission to go, not for any reason.

That particular decree, in myriad permutations, is at the hear... Read More

The Couch: A chip off the ol’ Bloch

The Couch directed by Owen Crump

In November 1960, filmgoers were presented with a very unique film, Girl of the Night. In it, we meet a call girl/prostitute named Bobbie Williams, played by the great Anne Francis in the screen role that she would go on to cite as her personal favorite of all her many performances. We learn about Bobbie via her visits to the psychiatrist (Lloyd Nolan) who is treating her, and these intimate encounters are alternated with glimpses of the young woman’s sordid daily life. Flash forward around 15 months, and another film would be released with very much the same modus operandi, but in this later film, the subject was male, and his life is shown to be more disturbing, as well as a lot more dangerous to the populace at large, than Bobbie’s ever was. That film was indeed The Couch, a little-discussed film today (not to be confused with the Andy Warhol film of 1964 that was simply entitled Couch) ... Read More

Love Me Deadly: Daddy’s girl meets the Deadheads

Love Me Deadly directed by Jacques Lacerte

When C. M. Eddy, Jr.’s infamous short story “The Loved Dead” first appeared in the April/May/June 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, with its necrophilic protagonist, it so shocked and scandalized readers that — or so it is told — sales of the beleaguered pulp magazine rose dramatically, thus rescuing it from financial failure. The better part of a century later, the subject of necrophilia is no less taboo and discomfiting. I have reviewed several films on various film sites that I have almost been embarrassed to admit having watched (such as The Worm Eaters, The Double-D Avenger and Please Don't Eat My Mother, among many others), and I initially thought that the necrophilia horror film Love Me Deadly,... Read More

The It’s Alive Trilogy: Mama’s little bundle of Hell

It’s Alive Trilogy directed by Larry Cohen

The birth of a child is usually the high point of any parent’s life; one of the most blessed moments that he or she could ever imagine. The blessed newborn is a little adorable bundle from heaven, one that is showered with instant and eternal love by the doting mother and father. But what if that newborn is not all that one could have hoped for … is, in fact, a killer mutant monstrosity, with a very nasty and homicidal temper, to boot? That was the premise of Larry Cohen’s ingenious 1974 offering It’s Alive!, a film that turned out to be so popular that it resulted in no fewer than two sequels. Here, for your one-stop, monster-baby shopping needs, are some brief thoughts on each of the films in this three-part affair. And no, you will NOT be needing formula or talcum powder as we proceed…

IT’S ALIVE!

Lots of parents call their children “little monsters,” but few o... Read More

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror by Allison V. Harding

Unless you are an aficionado of the famous pulp magazine Weird Tales, or have read some of the many anthology collections derived from its pages, the chances are good that you are not familiar with the author Allison V. Harding. This reader had previously encountered the author in the 1988 collection Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies, which contained what is probably Harding’s most famous story, “The Damp Man.” I had hugely enjoyed this chilling tale and wanted to read more by this nearly forgotten writer, but there was one problem: No collection of Harding’s work had ever been compiled, and her appearances in various collections are few and far between. And this is somewhat surprising, given that, during the peri... Read More

Bug: Not a job for Terminix

Bug directed by William Friedkin

As I sat down to watch a movie in my living room last night, my hometown of NYC — not to mention the rest of America and around 180 countries around the globe — was in the middle of the Great COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020. As of yesterday evening, there were around 67,000 cases in my city, over 1 million worldwide, and almost 60,000 deaths internationally. The peak has not yet been reached here, and fear and uncertainty reign, with no end to the scourge in sight. And, of course, the inevitable paranoia and conspiracy theories are beginning to emerge, with all kinds of crackpots coming out and declaring the virus to be some kind of foreign plot, and with NIAID head Dr. Anthony Fauci even requiring a security detail to guard against various wackadoodle threats. This, then, was the backdrop in which I sat down to watch some escapist entertainment last night. And what a film I chose for my evening’s leisure: Bug, in which ... Read More