Horror


Dolly: Hell, oh, Dolly

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Dolly by Susan Hill

English author Susan Hill had recently been an impressive 2 for 2 with this reader. Last year, I was happy to discover that her 1983 ghost novel, The Woman in Black, is one of the scariest books that I’d read in quite some time, and just a few weeks back, her 2010 ghost novel, The Small Hand, had proved highly satisfying for me, if not quite as chilling as the earlier book. Curious as to whether Ms. Hill could possibly go 3 for 3 with yours truly, I dove into her 2012 offering, Dolly, which, like those other two, is subtitled “A Ghost Story.” So, you may reasonably ask, ... Read More

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places: Why we need haunted places

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Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places by Colin Dickey

If ghosts exist, we don’t know why, but ghost stories exist because the living make them up; and the living make them up because we need them. Colin Dickey’s book Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places (2016) explores the US’s social conflicts and hidden histories as they play out in places that are publicly advertised as “haunted.” In the first chapter, Dickey says, “If you want to understand a place, ignore the boastful monuments and landmarks, and go straight to the haunted houses. Look for the darkened graveyards, the derelict hotels, the empty and decaying old hospitals.”

That passage is also something of a roadmap to the book, which comprises a collection of Dickey’s essays. The chapters are divided by category: haunted houses; haunted offices; haunte... Read More

It Devours!: Exploring the intersection of religion and science

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It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

Considering the massive, continuing success of their Welcome to Night Vale podcast and the first Night Vale tie-in novel, Welcome to Night Vale, it’s no surprise that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor wanted to keep the ball rolling and co-write a second Night Vale novel. Skeptical or worried readers could be forgiven for justifiable fears about the quality of It Devours! (2017): what if the core concept began to wear thin, what if the writing team of Fink and Cranor began to falter, what if they tried too hard to be “edgy” and simply came across as confrontational or sophomoric? Happily, the quality of It Devours! is such that I think it will put those and ... Read More

The Omen trilogy: Devilish good fun

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The Omen trilogy directed by Richard Donner, Don Taylor, Graham Baker

This viewer was a tad late in coming to the whole Omen phenomenon ... a good 30 years late, actually. But I have since eagerly made up for lost time and taken in the entire trilogy of films dealing with filmdom's favorite little Antichrist, and here, in these three short reviews, offer up some comments as to how they struck me. Consider this your one-stop shopping resource for all things Damien! And HAPPY HALLOWEEN to one and all!

The Omen: By the time I finally got around to watching it, I had a feeling that I might have been the only person in North America who had not seen the megahit The Omen. (Well, OK, maybe my Aunt Frici in the nursing home hadn't seen it yet either.) So permit me a moment or two while I "preach to the choir." Far from being just another Exorcist rip-off, The Omen is a... Read More

SFM: Poe, Bradbury, Danvers, Mamatas, James, Parypinski

Short Fiction Monday: Happy Halloween from Fantasy Literature and SFM! Our column today has an extra-large serving of horror stories. 


“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe (1846, free at Project Gutenberg)

Our narrator Montresor, an Italian nobleman, explains ― in a suspiciously vague way ― how his friend Fortunato has mortally offended and insulted him. Montresor sets himself on a course of implacable revenge ... but he wants to do so in a way that Fortunato understands that Montresor is the source of revenge, but without being caught or punished.

Montresor and Fortunato meet during a carnival festival ― which at first seems by chance, but then you find out that Montresor has set up the situation so that all of his... Read More

Welcome to Night Vale: Buckle up — it’s going to be a weird ride

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Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

If you enjoy horror in all its many forms, or just plain Weird Stuff, odds are good that you’ve at least heard of (if not been sucked into the fandom vortex of) the highly-acclaimed podcast Welcome to Night Vale. Its creators, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, have spent the last five years expanding upon a central premise — there’s a desert town in the southwestern region of the United States, where all manner of strange things happen and time doesn’t really exist — through twice-monthly podcast episodes. The success of the podcast has led to a number of other projects, including this novel, Welcome to Night Vale (2015), which is a perfect entry point for anyone wondering what all the fuss is about, as well as a rewarding read for established fans.

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Devil’s Possessed: The Gilles man

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Devil’s Possessed directed by Leon Klimovsky

The real-life historical figure Gilles de Rais apparently inspired Paul Naschy — the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain" — to create two of his greatest characters. de Rais, a 15th century French knight who fought alongside Joan of Arc and later became an aspiring alchemist, Satanist and serial child killer, first prompted Naschy to come up with the necromancer/Satanist character Alaric de Marnac for his 1973 classic Horror Rises From the Tomb. Though beheaded in 1454, de Marnac (played by Naschy himself) returned to cause major-league mishegas 520 years later in the film, and even came back for an encore in 1983's Panic Beats, an even superior outing.

In 1974, though, Naschy wrote the screenplay for a more realistic look at the Gilles de Rais legend, for that year's Devil's Possessed (aka The Devil's Possessed.) Here, ... Read More

Satan’s Wife: Dirty demon daughter

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Satan’s Wife directed by Pier Carpi

Those viewers who believe Patty McCormack's Rhoda Penmark character, in the 1956 classic The Bad Seed, to be the nastiest, most diabolical little girl ever shown on film might change their mind after seeing the 1979 Italian offering Satan's Wife. This latter picture was originally released under the title Un'ombra nell'ombra, or Ring of Darkness, but for once, I prefer the American appellation, as it is both more memorable and more suitably descriptive. An engrossing though hardly essential example of Eurohorror, the film should certainly prove of interest to the jaded fan of such fare who is looking for something different.

In the film, the viewer meets a very attractive, middle-aged mother named Carlotta Rhodes. Thirteen years earlier, Carlotta and several other women had danced and participated in a Satanic ritual ... and even, s... Read More

Graveyard of Horror: Plenty of atmosphere and weirdness

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Graveyard of Horror directed by Miguel Madrid

There is a world of difference in what Spanish filmmakers could get away with before the death of Generalissimo Francisco Franco in 1975, and what they could get away with after the subsequent introduction of the infamous "S" rating (denoting sex and violence) two years later. A pair of Spanish films that this viewer recently watched has served to demonstrate these differences very clearly. The 1977 film Satan's Blood is replete with nudity (both topless and full frontal), orgies, rape sequences, beheadings and other gory carnage (as I have written elsewhere, it is a truly wild and memorable film, and I do commend it to your attention). On the other hand, the 1971 Spanish offering Graveyard of Horror (which originally appeared under the title Necrophagus and has also been released with the appellation The Butcher of Binbrook) is a much mor... Read More

Tragic Ceremony: When Luciana met Camille

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Tragic Ceremony directed by Riccardo Freda

As I have said elsewhere, my abiding love for Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi has, cinematically, led me to some fairly unusual places. From my initial enthrallment with her Fiona Volpe character in 1965's Thunderball and on to such disparate fare as the British comedy Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959), the Japanese sci-fi shlock classic The Green Slime (1968), the Jess Franco WIP flick 99 Women (1969) and the blaxploitation actioner Black Gunn (1972), I have always found that a little Luciana makes any film go down easier. My most recent confirmation of this: the 1972 Italian supernatural cult item Tragic Ceremony (or, as it was called originally, Estralto Dagli Archivi Secreti Della Polizia Di Una Capitale Europa, or From the Secret Police Files of a European Capital), in which Paluzzi's role is ... Read More

Dead Eyes of London: My first krimi

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The Dead Eyes of London directed by Alfred Vohrer

As distinct a film genre as the American film noir of the 1940s and '50s and the Italian giallo of the 1970s, the German krimi pictures that flourished throughout the 1960s are almost exclusively based on the works of one remarkably prolific author: British novelist Edgar Wallace. The creator of around 175 (!) novels of mystery, crime, and detection, Wallace and his gigantic oeuvre supplied the German film industry of the late '50s to the early '70s with a superabundance of material to draw on. Though a huge fan of noir and giallo, this viewer had never seen a krimi film until very recently, and the film in question, 1961's The Dead Eyes of London, would seem to be a nice introduction to the genre. Based on Wallace's 1924 novel The Dark Eyes of London, the picture is supposedly a remake of a 1939 British filmiz... Read More

SFM: Gladstone, Kress, Khaw, Ndoro, Seiner

Short Fiction Monday: Our exploration of free and inexpensive short fiction available on the internet. Here are a few stories we've read recently that we wanted you to know about. 


“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone (Oct. 2017, free at Tor.com, 99c Kindle version)

A young woman, Delilah Dane, moves from Savannah to New York City to pursue her theatrical dreams; the cost of living in NYC being what it is, she supplements her waitressing income by posing for artists. (Nothing more than posing — she has very strict rules about conduct and respect.) After an... Read More

Tales from a Talking Board: Is anyone here? Read along and see.

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Tales from a Talking Board edited by Ross Lockhart

Tales From a Talking Board (2017) delivers fourteen shivery stories that involve spirit boards. In the US, we think of them as Ouija Boards, but that was actually a brand name; spirit boards, which involve a surface with the alphabet and an object that glides over it, stopping at letters, have been around quite a while.

This anthology has plenty to please people who like the creepy, and lends itself to a dark autumn night pretty well. Some stories are more gory than others. At least one is flat-out funny. A few tales strain to wrap themselves around the spirit board and at least one has no divinatory prop at all.

I’ll talk about the stories I liked best or found noteworthy. Here is the complete Table of Contents from Tales from a Talking Board:

“YesNoGoo... Read More

Suicide Club: Honshu: The dessart island

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Suicide Club directed by Shion Sono

There are two types of film review that I find it particularly difficult to write. The first is for a movie that I have fallen head over heels in love with, with fear that my gushing words of praise will do little to do the picture justice. And then there is the review for a film that, despite repeated watches, I just cannot wrap my poor aching cerebrum around; in short, one that I just cannot fully understand. Shion Sono's 2001 offering, Suicide Club, is, sadly, of that latter ilk. And that's a real shame, because for the film's first 2/3 or so, I was wholly involved, slack-jawed, and keeping up very nicely, indeed. And then come those final 30 minutes or so, which, judging from some other comments that I've read, have served as a stumbling block of sorts for many other viewers besides myself…

The film opens with as memorable and horrifying a spectacle as an... Read More

The Sinful Dwarf: Eurosleaziest

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The Sinful Dwarf directed by Vidal Raski

Film buffs who are curious as to what the whole Eurosleaze genre is all about could not find a better exemplar than The Sinful Dwarf. A 1973 picture from Denmark, of all places, the film conflates soft-core porn elements, deformed characters, scenes of ultracamp, and considerable doses of drugs and depravity into one of the sleaziest confections any viewer could possibly hope for.

In this truly one-of-a-kind outing, the viewer meets Lila Lash, a drunken, scar-faced ex-entertainer (played by Clara Keller), who, with her grotesque dwarf son, Olaf (the remarkable Torben Bille), runs a boardinghouse in what we must infer is London. The Lashes' main source of income, however, comes from somewhere else. Olaf, using windup toys as an enticement (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried!), lures young women back to the house, where they are knocked out, locked in ... Read More

City Of The Living Dead: “Things that will shatter your imagination…”

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City Of The Living Dead directed by Lucio Fulci

The second installment of Lucio Fulci's so-called Zombie Quartet — coming after 1979's Zombie and preceding 1981's The Beyond and The House By the Cemetery — City of the Living Dead (1980) finds the Italian director near the very top of his form, confounding his audience with borderline senseless plots and repulsing viewers with an array of awesome gross-out effects.

In this one, a priest named Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) hangs himself, for reasons never explained, in the cemetery of small-town Dunwich, Massachusetts (an homage here to the fictional town created by the great H.P. Lovecraft; the picture would more accurately be entitled Village of the Living Dead). T... Read More

The Small Hand: I’m giving it a big hand

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The Small Hand by Susan Hill

Susan Hill’s first ghost novel, 1983’s The Woman in Black, had recently surprised this reader by being one of the scariest modern-day horror outings that I’ve run across in years. Thus, I decided to see if lightning could possibly strike twice, and picked up her more-recent The Small Hand (2010). This latter title is the fourth of Ms. Hill’s five ghost novels to date, following The Mist in the Mirror (1992) and The Man in the Picture (2007), and preceding her recent Read More

The Beyond: All Hell busts loose

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The Beyond directed by Lucio Fulci

In the 1977 film The Sentinel, a character played by Cristina Raines moves into a Brooklyn Heights apartment building that, as it turns out, sits above the gateway to Hell. But as Italian director Lucio Fulci shows us in the third picture of his so-called Zombie Quartet, 1981's The Beyond (which picture followed 1979's Zombie and 1980's City of the Living Dead and preceded that same year's House By the Cemetery), there are actually SEVEN gateways on Earth that lead down to the infernal nether regions! Here, a NYC-based woman named Liza Merrill (beautiful English actress Catriona MacColl, who stars in the final three films of the Quartet) inherits a run-down inn called the Seven Doors Hotel, in Louisiana. After a series of gruesome accidents transpires around the property, Liza is warned by a mysterious blind girl, Emily (Cinzia Monr... Read More

Tokyo Gore Police: “Once upon a time there was an engineer…”

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Tokyo Gore Police directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura

Those viewers who thought the pyrotechnic gore FX of Yoshihiro Nishimura in the 2001 cult item Suicide Club to be a bit too over the top may want to hold on to their seats and wrap themselves in a full-length rubber coverall as Tokyo Gore Police begins to unspool. Living up to its title in spades, this 2008 offering does indeed give us a look at the cops in Japan's capital city in the near future, and ladles out more of the red stuff than The Wild Bunch, El Topo, The Evil Dead AND Dead Alive (four films once deemed the ne plus ultra of violence) put together ... and then some!

In this film, Nishimura has developed the "human blood fountain" to a fine art, a concept that I believe Akira Kurosawa initially used to great shock effect at the tail end of 1962's Sanjuro. Viewers with any sort of aver... Read More

Inferno: A “mater” of life and death

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Inferno directed by Dario Argento

In Dario Argento's 1977 masterpiece, Suspiria, the viewer learns that the ballet school known as the Tanz Akademie, in Freiburg, Germany, was the home to a coven of witches led by a being later revealed to be the Mater Suspiriorum, Latin for "Mother of Sighs." And three years later, in Argento's semisequel, Inferno, the viewer learns something even more disturbing. The Mother of Sighs, the oldest, was apparently only one of three sister entities; living somewhere in Rome, there exists the Mater Lacrimarum (Mother of Tears), the most beautiful of the three (we DO get a look at her in Inferno, I THINK, in the guise of a music student played by Ania Pieroni), while in New York City abides Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness), the youngest and cruelest of the bunch. Together, the trio has caused woe to mankind for untold ages.

And when a young ... Read More

The Bloodstained Shadow: Eerie canal

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The Bloodstained Shadow directed by Antonio Bido

A practically goreless giallo coming fairly late in that genre's cycle, The Bloodstained Shadow (1978) yet manages to provide all the requisite thrills that Eurohorror fans might reasonably expect. This was the second picture from director Antonio Bido, whose initial giallo entry, The Cat With Jade Eyes (aka Watch Me When I Kill), released the year before, seems almost forgotten today. Drawing liberally from 15 years' worth of giallo tropes and conventions preceding it (Bido, on this Anchor Bay DVD, acknowledges his debt to Dario Argento during a modern-day, informative interview), the film remains a very worthwhile contribution to the genre.

In it, the viewer meets a pair of brothers, Stefano and Paolo D'Archangelo. When Stefano, a college professor (played by Lino Capolicchio, who some may recall as the leading man in P... Read More

Crimson, the Color of Blood: Brain trust

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Crimson, the Color of Blood directed by Juan Fortuny

Fans of actor/screenwriter/director Paul Naschy who rent out the 1973 film Crimson, the Color of Blood hoping to get a good solid dose of "the Boris Karloff of Spain" may be a tad disappointed at how things turn out. By necessity, Naschy's role in this picture is severely limited, he doesn't make much of an appearance until the film is 2/3 done, and even in the final 1/3, his thesping abilities are only minimally utilized.

In this French/Spanish coproduction, Naschy plays a jewel thief named Surnett, who flees from the police, along with his gang, after a botched robbery attempt near the French city of Nancy. Surnett is shot in the head two minutes after the film begins, and spends the next hour of the picture in a virtual coma, while his gang scrambles to find a doctor to help him. Ultimately, it is decided that Surnett needs nothing less than... Read More

Exorcismo: For Naschy completists only

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Exorcismo directed by Juan Bosch

The notion has often struck me that one of the hallmarks of truly great screen stars is their ability to render even the most egregiously shlocky films highly watchable and interesting by dint of their very presence. This idea occurred to me again several months back, as I caught the 1957 film Voodoo Island for the first time; a picture that might be close to unwatchable, had it not starred the always fascinating Boris Karloff. And this thought struck me again the other night as I sat before the 1975 Spanish horror outing Exorcismo, which stars and was co-written by the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain," Jacinto Molina, who is more popularly known as Paul Naschy. A slow-moving, talky affair, the film is most assuredly rescued by Naschy's always interesting presence.

Here, for a change,... Read More

The Hunchback of the Morgue: Hot rats

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The Hunchback of the Morgue directed by Javier Aguirre

From the jaunty circus music that plays during its opening credits to the closing shot of a steaming, bubbling pit of sulfuric acid, The Hunchback of the Morgue, a Spanish offering from 1973, literally busts a gut to please the jaded horror fan. Co-written and starring "The Boris Karloff of Spain," Paul Naschy, the film is a wildly over-the-top, cheesy affair that yet succeeds in its primary intentions: to stun and entertain the viewer.

In The Hunchback of the Morgue, Naschy plays the title character, Wolfgang Gotho, a hunchbacked janitor in the morgue of the Feldkirch Hospital, in what the viewer must infer is Germany, in modern times (although the film, with very minor revisions, could just as easily have been set 200 years ago). Shunned, reviled and even stoned by the town's populace, Gotho's only joy in life is bringing flowers t... Read More

Vengeance of the Zombies: Naschy X 3

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Vengeance of the Zombies directed by Leon Klimovsky

Psychotronic-film buffs who watch the Paul Naschy films Crimson (1973) and The Hanging Woman (also 1973) may come away feeling a bit shortchanged regarding the amount of screen time allotted to the so-called "Boris Karloff of Spain." In the first, Naschy plays a jewel thief who has been shot in the head following a botched robbery, and thus lays in a near coma for the film's first hour, while awaiting a brain transplant; in the second, he plays a necrophilic grave digger whose screen time is brief in the extreme. No such drawbacks for the eager Naschyphile crop up in Leon Klimovsky's Vengeance of the Zombies (1973 again ... quite a year for Paul!), fortunately; in fact, in this one, Spain's leading horror icon plays no less than three (3!) roles, and is marvelous in all of them.
... Read More