Anatomy Of An Unnecessary Remake

*Spoiler Alert! I’ll be discussing detailed plot points about the 2015 film remake of Poltergeist below. You’ll have less chance of spoiling your lunch if you read it here than actually watching this nausea-inducing trainwreck*

Very few things annoy me more than when Hollywood decides to chase the money and crank out a remake of a beloved classic film (your definition of beloved may vary). With the current climate of reboot and rebrand and repeat going on today, this problem has become an epidemic, and the casualties are mounting. Just look at poor Patrick Swayze, may he rest in peace. First, Chris Hemsworth headed an horrifically bad and unnecessary remake of the Swayze/Charlie Sheen brothers in arms classic Red Dawn. That’s been followed up by a terribly unimaginative re-do of the Swayze/Keanu/Busey surfing bank robber epic Point Break. Now with more X-treme! I must’ve missed when we time warped back to 1997.

And to top it off, there’s news that the Swayze/Sam Elliott ass-kicker Roadhouse is getting redone, starring women’s UFC superstar Ronda Rousey. No offense to Rousey (please don’t beat me senseless) but that’s the trifecta of picking the bones of a great career many of us recall very fondly. At least Ghost is safe. Wait, what? Oh, for fucks sake!

With this cavalcade of awfulness going on, I thought I’d dive into the deep end and subject myself to another one of these hideously unnecessary money grabs, Poltergeist. I’m going to watch it now and pause every so often to throw up my thoughts on the 2015 remake of the classic 1982 horror film (and I do mean throw up. I may vomit). This is about as clear an example of an unnecessary remake as there is. Generally, a film I consider unnecessary is one who’s original is strong enough (and in some cases, recent enough) that a remake has only the possibility of ending up an inferior film. So, Poltergeist? Check and mate on that.

The original Poltergeist is certainly not perfect. Aspects of it are dated to the point of incomprehensible to some younger audiences. The national anthem playing before the channel signed off late at night and switched to static comes to mind. And the special effects used at the time can sometimes be a bit clunky, like the guy peeling his face off in the bathroom mirror. But if cheesy effects and inconsequential dating is the reason you’d want to remake this movie, you should really go back and watch it again because I think you missed the point.

The 1982 version was written (mostly) and produced by Steven Fucking Spielberg at the height of his Spielbergian powers in the early ’80s. It was directed by Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame (another of his films to be victimized by an unnecessary remake), and starred Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and that creepy little girl who played Carol Anne (who even more creepily died filming a later sequel). The new version is directed by Gil Kenan who, according to IMDB, is known for some shit I’ve never heard of. It stars Sam Rockwell (who I’m totally cool with. Moon was awesome! ) Rosemarie DeWitt and some non-creepy dark haired girl whose character’s name is no longer Carol Anne. It’s Madison. *sigh*

“Don’t go into the light, Madison,” just doesn’t have the same vibe as Zelda Rubinstein’s soul searing, and slightly country-fied, “Carol Anne!” But then, there’s no Tangina in this new version, anyway. *double sigh*

Well, here goes. I’m going to hit play and watch some, then comment when the mood strikes.

20 Minutes In…

After making it through the opening setup, my previous reservations have become full-on annoyance. Gone is the entire subplot between Craig T. Nelson and his boss. Shouldn’t matter much though, because it was only the entire proximate cause of the haunting, and by extension, the plot. No big deal. The unscrupulous boss, who moves the headstones from a graveyard, builds his houses right over the bodies then convinces his top salesman and family to move right into the model home, all the better for his sales, is out.

That moment near the end, standing on the hill beside the next graveyard his boss wanted to build atop, when Nelson realized what he’d done, and that all of their paranormal problems had been caused by that man’s greed and callousness, that’s gone too. Sam Rockwell’s boss is now a faceless John Deere exec who laid him off, causing the family to downsize for money reasons. Why change that original relationship? Now, they’re just another in a long line of hard luck horror movie families who got a little too good of a deal just when they were desperate for one, with inevitably ghastly consequences.

So not only is this an unnecessary remake, it’s now dumbed down an integral plot point from the original. The payoff in this one for why the house is haunted better be good, but I’m not sure how they can improve upon what they’ve already discarded.

Oh, and #thishouseisclean?!?
#fuckoffwiththat!

40 Minutes In…

So the abducting the little girl part is roughly the same only without any of the tension of the original. It’s almost as though the screenwriter said, “you know how this goes,” and gave us the cliff notes version in an extended montage scene. That’s an inherent problem with unnecessary remakes, particularly of well known originals. The audience already knows all the beats. A skilled filmmaker can sometimes use those audience expectations to their advantage. Or not, lest we forget the Khan debacle.

The result is the tree that attacks the boy loses its stoically ominous nature, the clown is barely creepy at all (quite an accomplishment to make a clown like that not frightening) and Madison’s “they’re here” gets mumbled out of necessity by a little girl who looks like she hasn’t slept in a month rather than Carol Anne’s welcoming, drawn out version that made everyone’s skin crawl. Again, how do you improve upon what doesn’t need improving? Don’t bother asking the makers of this film because they don’t seem to know either.

Apparently, the family does still live in a house where the developer moved the headstones of a graveyard but left the bodies. The parents find out at a dinner party. But now, it’s no longer a direct betrayal but something that happened long in the past and has become idle rumors for the snotty well-to-do. The movie also further reinforced the family’s money troubles with an extended “credit cards are overdrawn” scene, as well as some convenient condescension from other dinner party guests. The money angle makes sense as justification for how the family got into this situation, it’s just less original and much less interesting than its predecessor.

Another point of annoyance for me so far, as if I need one, is the lack of levity in this version. The supernatural happenings are all unambiguously evil. There’s none of the playfulness of the kitchen floor scene from the old film. It’s dark throughout, from the tone, the setting, the characters; it’s all skirting the edge of darkness all the time. Even Rockwell, who I generally enjoy, has descended to being irritating to the point where I just wish one of the others characters would tell him to shut the hell up. There’s no happiness present to be ripped away from the family like in the original. It’s just a group of people suffering bad on top of bad. It’s almost masochistic. Speaking of which, onward I go.

One Hour In…

How can I put this? The part about the paranormal investigative team is just like the original only less. The people are thin imitations, the pace of the film sped up to the point it’s sacrificing characterization, even the supernatural moments are slight, less complex variations of what we’ve already seen. The dad drinking and hallucinating about throwing up a worm(s); the ghostly apparition that floated downstairs/ghostly shadow that drifted upstairs, the anecdote by the cameraman about only seeing objects move with time lapse photography thrown in his face, a table leg/tennis ball goes into the upstairs closet and out the downstairs ceiling, covered in goo. One beat after another, all the same and all playing like somebody ticking items off a checklist. It’s almost as if this movie were filmed from a numbered outline rather than an actual screenplay.

There’s not a single element of this film so far that’s improved upon (or even matched) it’s original presentation. It seems to be simply a sequence of events that, taken on its own without the original film as a frame of reference, might well be incoherent. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

One Hour 15 Minutes in…

Ok, wow. As I mentioned earlier, there’s no Tangina in this version. But apparently, Captain Quint from Jaws was available. And what do you know, he happens to be the ex husband of the science team leader! Don’t you just love convenient symmetry?

We also discover that remote control drones can send back crystal clear picture from the underworld. That’s a nice feature. And the cemetery the developers built over was huge, as evidenced by the mounds of writhing corpses all over the place in limbo. How two children managed to evade all those thousands of desperately grasping limbs and escape remains unclear.

Which brings me to another change, the mother didn’t save the girl this time, her brother did. In fact, there’s little suggestion beforehand that the mother go at all. Now the film has taken bites out of both parents; the dad’s an unemployed loser who can’t support his family and the mother is a flighty (she’ll get to that novel someday, I’m sure) helpless bystander.

Mercifully, it’s almost over. I’ve still got the “surprise” after the faux ending to come. See what I mean about knowing all the beats?

The End

Awful. Just awful. Points, though, for when the poltergeist flipped the minivan and dragged them all back into the house. That may have been the only genuinely cool moment in the entire movie. This time around, Captain Quint leaps into the abyss to lead the lost souls into the light, apparently by blasting the roof off the place. The house doesn’t completely implode, however, and Quint appears to survive, somehow, much to relief of his ex wife. That may be the most unrealistic thing to happen. Most people’s exes would likely be thrilled to have theirs swallowed up in a cavern of tormented souls, I would think.

Even the little bit of humor at the end didn’t work as well as the original, when Craig T. Nelson wrapped the movie up by wheeling the hotel TV out of their room. In this one, the family is house hunting again and run away when faced with a house having similar characteristics to their last one. How a broke, unemployed couple fresh from a demolished house they just bought can afford another one so soon is a bigger mystery than the poltergeist itself. You might want to check, but I’m reasonably sure homeowners insurance doesn’t cover ghosts ripping your house apart from the netherworld. Probably need a separate rider for that kind of coverage.

If they hadn’t spent a goodly portion of the first 45 minutes beating us over the head with the family’s money troubles, this scene might not be so terrible. As it is, I suspect the family simply took up fucking with realtors as a hobby rather than actually having the resources to buy another house, especially a bigger and better one than what they just demolished. It smacks of the screenwriter trying to be cute at the expense of consistency.

Overall, this was terrible. Basically the same movie as the original, only worse in every respect, often spectacularly so. But that’s not surprising. There was no reason for this movie to even be made. If you’re interested in watching a film that shits all over the far superior original (and Terminator Genisys isn’t available) by all means, give this a shot!

With Hollywood continuing to crank out little or nothing but inane reboots, comic book movies or some combination of both, the only question I’m left with is how long until tech gets truly affordable enough to kick off a genuine independent film revolution? It’s coming, sooner than later, no doubt. And when it does, it’ll benefit greatly from an audience likely desperate for some new material for once, thank you.

Dan Meadows is a writer living on the banks of the Chesapeake Bay. Follow him on Twitter @watershedchron

Published in: on October 3, 2015 at 2:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Live Movie Review: Cabin in the Woods

I always wanted to try something like this. I was sitting around the house this evening, feeling pretty bored, and I had rented Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods earlier in the day, so I thought, what the hell. The following is my unvarnished opinions on the film, posted as I watched it.

(Note: there will be spoilers. Of course, this movie’s like a year old, so if you haven’t seen it by now, you probably don’t really care anyway, but I thought warning you would be the polite thing to do. Unless you actually wanted the surprise of finding out if there’s spoilers in here, in which case, I’m sorry for spoiling that.)

1:04

What the hell was that? Ominous generic horror movie music and credits opening to, what, public domain Dante’s Inferno artwork with blood dripping on it? Is this an allegory or a horror movie? God, I hope its a horror movie and not some attempt by Joss Whedon to make a point. By the way, how pissed do you think the dude who did the original artwork for The Divine Comedy is that he wasn’t born in a time with copyright? That guy’d be a billionaire by now on residuals from third rate horror flicks alone.

2:58

Ok, so generic male receding hairline corporate dude was entirely too confident blowing off the concerns of the hot scientist babe. Something tells me dire consequences lie in wait. Something like, oh, I don’t know, every horror movie ever made.

4:08

A conversation between a smoking hot blonde in a skimpy sundress and a smoking hot redhead in her panties in the film’s first five minutes? Bravo, Mr. Whedon! He certainly knows his audience.

5:05

Hey, is that Thor? Yes, yes it is. I bet he uses a hammer at some point. Chris Hemsworth has brandished a hammer at some point in every film he’s ever been in. Seriously, Thor, The Avengers, Snow White and the Huntsman…or was that an axe? Actually, I don’t know if that’s true…Thor!

7:07

Holy shit! Did they do any merchandising for this film? Because I’m pretty sure that two-foot bong that collapses into a to-go coffee mug is the single most brilliant invention in the history of civilization! These things should be available in a store near everyone! Strategically placed between the Maxwell House and the Doritos, naturally.

12:19

So we’ve got the stock crew for a horror movie–the jock, the slutty blonde, the black guy, the stoner and the survivor girl–in the stock situation of having a party weekend at some relative’s isolated cabin. They’ve even had the stock ominous warnings of the backwards country dude on the way. This is pretty much Horror 101 so far. So either Joss Whedon just needed a paycheck and mailed it in, or he’s trying to be clever.

13:19

WTF! Did that bird just fly into a forcefield? Yup, clever it is.

21:21

Uhhh…ok. That was just a gag scene, right out of a Scary Movie spoof with the Harbinger. A speaker phone gag, at that. What is going on? We’ve got a serious cliched horror film being controlled and directed by two guys straight out of Airplane? Dammit! Whedon’s being clever. I’m not going to say this has totally gone off the rails, but it’s teetering right on the edge.

24:27

Alright, Whedon brought it back a bit with that scene. These corporate lookin’ guys are controlling things but only to a point. “If they don’t transgress, they can’t be punished.” That sounds like all kinda bad news for Scooby and the gang. But still, bad, bad choice to go with that speaker phone gag.

27:53

Oh, poor Dana! Talk about awful timing. After steeling herself up and taking the dare when Thor called her a pussy, probably thinking she’d have to make out with the wolf head like the blonde did or flash her tits or something, bam! The mysterious cellar door flies open for no reason and that becomes the obvious dare. Sucks for her! She’ll be alright, though. She’s the survivor girl.

33:39

See, this is good kinda clever. The basement filled with creepy ass stuff, I’m presuming all of it cursed. Sort of like a choose your own adventure, but with a horrifying death at the end of each option.

38:19

So not only are the corporate dudes running the show and spying on their every move, they’re making them act even more stereotypical that they already are. I’m not really sure what’s happening again. They’re answering to what or who exactly? And since when do creatures like that want their sacrifices delivered up as horror movies? Zombie redneck torture family? What happens if they fail? Can I put any more questions in this paragraph? Is that microwave popcorn done yet?

44:00

Alright, now we’re getting down to brass tacks! But, honestly, almost 45 minutes before someone gets brutally murdered in a horror movie? Slacking, Whedon. I love the bear trap on a chain, though. That’s got a place in my “shit I really hope to god I never encounter in real life” list.

51:00

Oh, paranoid nihilist stoner dude, we hardly knew ya. I had a momentary hope that super coffee cup bong was gonna save the day, but that damn redneck zombie just took it in stride. And right after he noticed the hidden cameras, too. At least he died knowing there really was someone watching him. Go gentle into that good night, paranoid nihilist stoner dude.

54:40

That bear trap on a chain makes a reappearance! It’s climbing up my list of horrific items I never wanna see with a bullet! And for an instant there, I thought Thor grabbed a hammer, but it was just a 2 x 4. He’ll get one before this is over and done though, just you wait…

56:12

The Japanese dropped the ball and now Kiko’s spirit will live on in the happy frog. Sounds nice.

1:01:18

He’s not going to do what I think he is? No, no, no! Thor…no! He did. Well, you could say he “hammer”-ed that force field. With his face. I get it! It’s a metaphysical sort of thing. Hemsworth didn’t wield a hammer in this film, he became the hammer. Streak saved. (Again, I don’t really know if he had a streak.)

1:02:56

And then there was one…survivor girl. Good to know that the death of the virgin is optional, though. I’ll keep that stored away in case I ever need to appease some ancient diety. I’m really not digging the puppet master corporate types side of this movie. The tone is off. Either the horror movie side is took heavy or the puppet master side is too light. They’re clashing in an unenjoyable way.

1:06:58

Damn right! Paranoid nihilist stoner dude lives! And he saved survivor girl by finally overcoming that horribly frightening bear trap on a chain! The corporate folks do seem a bit disturbed by this development, however.

1:18:06

This is awesome! Just total chaos, every horror movie monster you can imagine and then some just running totally amok! They evidently had a sizable line item for fake blood in the budget of this film. This totally makes up for making me wait half the movie to see somebody offed.

1:19:00

A murderous unicorn? Really? Eh…

1:23:23

Ladies and gentlemen, Sigourney Weaver! Conveniently here to explain everything they couldn’t be bothered to present through actual narrative storytelling. Hoo-rah!

1:30:33

Giant evil gods. Huh. Has anyone checked on Joss Whedon lately? How’s he doin’? Maybe somebody oughta give him a call just to say hello or send him a cookie bouquet. Jesus, that was a cynical ending! Fuck it, humanity deserves to die so let’s just fire up a joint and watch the world burn. Man, I thought I had a low opinion of the state of things, but that movie was just…dark. And not in a good way. That’s the kinda shit where I wouldn’t be totally shocked to find out whoever wrote it offed themselves later.

Overall, not a good movie. The main plot device was too clever for its own good, and Whedon setting two different tones (horror and almost comedy) between the two halves of the film just didn’t work. And that ending, wow. I’ve seen and enjoyed unhappy endings where the heroes fail and the world crumbles but that’s the first time I’ve ever seen the protagonists, the good guys of the film, just decide to let the world end even when they easily could have stopped it. It’s just too callous of a disregard of basic humanity. The choice was he can die or he can die and cause every soul on the planet’s death, too. Cardboard as they were, and even with stoner dude’s obvious nihilism (which, in and of itself, was pretty unrealistic) I just don’t believe either one of those characters as established would have made that choice.

This whole movie felt forced. The different tones were forced together, the horror movie within a horror movie element came off as a smug, look-how-clever-I-am device. The over-the-top humor seemed awkward and out of place for the most part, and I don’t buy the ending at all.

So, that’s it. Even though the movie sucked, this was kinda fun. And I actually made it all the way through without getting bored and bailing to go get some nachos.

Final Conclusion: Stay away. Stay far away.

Published in: on February 11, 2013 at 7:59 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , , ,

Free Short Story Weekend!

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This weekend–Friday, Saturday and Sunday–a different short story in the Watershed Tales series will be free from Amazon each day.  The free stories will celebrate the release of the final three shorts of the series, bringing Watershed Tales to a total of 10.

Friday:  The Corn Snow

There’s something evil in the woods. No one quite knows what it is, but every five years, like clockwork, it returns to haunt one particular family, bringing with it a fierce storm marked by a rare, sleet-like precipitation called corn snow. Each time the storm comes, the unnamed evil claims a different family member as its own, no matter how hard they try to prevent it. But now, the family’s matriarch has had enough. Twenty years of watching the slow erosion of her family has left her old and alone.  On this night, the storm approaches once again, but she’s ready. She will not be taken.

This edition of Watershed Tales also includes a bonus tale, One Step Ahead. After a horrible accident during a bad storm claims the life of his pregnant wife and their unborn child, Gil’s rage leads him to curse God himself for allowing such misfortune.  Soon, however, he finds himself running desperately to stay ahead of the fate that had failed to claim his life with the rest of his family. Unwilling to simply lie down and accept it, Gil responds by fighting back the only way he knows how, by using the vindictive twist thrown at him to survive, staying just in front of the retribution always chasing him.

Get The Corn Snow from Amazon

Saturday:  The Beacon

The dreams had created an obsession so deep within Gary that he dragged himself, almost unthinkingly, out to the remote lighthouse in the middle of the night, risking the approaching onslaught of the storm, to find the answers. The woman in white he had seen every night for weeks had been calling to him, wanting him to solve the riddle the dreams had pounded into his head. Through the darkness, the thunder, lightning and heavy winds, and the treacherous route to the isolated peninsula upon which the lighthouse stood, Gary risked it all to try and settle his tortured mind.  But once he reached the beacon that had called to him so forcefully in his sleep, would he find the answers he sought, or only more questions?

This edition of Watershed Tales also contains the bonus tale, Yardwork.  If you thought mowing the grass, pruning hedges or raking leaves in your yard was tough, try being Tom.  In the ever-present struggle to maintain control over the forces of nature, and bring civilization to a comfortable suburban landscape, what do you do if the yard likes the way it is and doesn’t want or need your help?

Get The Beacon from Amazon

Sunday:  Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Business Man is the fierce, self-anointed top predator of his realm, the great gleaming steel and concrete jungle.  For so long now, he’s prowled the hunting grounds of these streets, seeking out new prey to fatten his bank account.  He’s become so self-assured in his dominance that the mere notion of danger had become alien to him.  Times are changing, however, and some of the weakest, least valuable inhabitants of his world have developed a new plan.  They are turning the long-standing food chain on its head, and if Business Man isn’t careful, yesterday’s predator could very well turn into today’s prey.

This edition of Watershed Tales also contains two short bonus stories.  First, Indifference tells of a world falling apart at the seams, death and destruction everywhere, and basic human compassion is the first casualty.  Second, the messiah is faced with having to deal with modern day problems during an illegitimate and intrusive interaction during a random traffic
stop by a police officer just trolling for someone to hassle in What Would Jesus Do?

Get Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? from Amazon

Evereybody Likes Free Stuff! Get a different short story ebook every day during the first week of March

Spring is just about upon us, and I figured as part of my ongoing promotion of my self publishing excursions, I’d offer up a different ebook in my Watershed Tales series of digital short stories for free for the Amazon Kindle every day of the first week of March.  Here’s the run down of what’s available, when, with the obligatory link to the store site.  Enjoy!

Monday, March 5-  The Long Walk

What happens when your conscience is over-ridden by your orders?  Is it better to simply do as you’re told, even when you find the actions abhorrent?  And if you do, despite your better judgment, what kind of consequences will follow, if any?  In The Long Walk, a young cavalryman gets assigned the duty of escorting some particularly violent prisoners to their place of execution.  The manner planned for the  deaths of the condemned is particularly horrible, but no one questions their actions or orders until it’s far too late.  Honor doesn’t supersede duty in the unforgiving desert, and the results are severe.

Get The Long Walk

Tuesday, March 6- Journalistic Integrity

Reporters and war correspondents regularly put themselves in harm’s way all in the name of journalism, ratings and informing the people.  Most times, things work out; sometimes they go horribly wrong.  When a military madman rises to power in a former Russian province after the collapse of the Soviet Union, threatening Moscow and London with some old Soviet nukes he’d managed to get his hands on, it looks like the story of the century.  A bevy of reporters from all the major news agencies in the world make their way through the war-torn countryside in pursuit of an exclusive.  But when they find what they’re looking for, these newsmen discover that instead of covering the story, they are about to become it.

Get Journalistic Integrity

Wednesday, March 7- The Garden

Isolation can do strange things to a person, and there can be no place more alone than in the depths of space.  Duane is an astronaut on a 20-year mission to test technology that could lead to mankind’s greatest exploration ever.  His ship, being fully automated, leaves him with nothing but time to fill.  The large garden that provides his food, water and oxygen for the journey is his only distraction from the tedium.  But several years into his mission, things start to go wrong and he loses contact with Earth.  The constant loneliness begins to dredge up memories of his unhappy past, and the garden that provides not only the elements for his survival but also his sanity, is threatened.  Will Duane find within himself what it takes to survive and make it back home or will he be lost forever?  This edition of Watershed Tales also includes a short bonus tale, Travis Walton Never Had It So Bad, a story of planetary exploration and how very wrong things can go.

Get The Garden

Thursday, March 8- Faded Summer Leaves

You hear so much about the innocence of youth, but in truth, youth isn’t all that innocent.  The same mean-spirited viciousness, rage and emotional trauma adults suffer through exists for the young, as well.  And often, the lack of experience of youth amplifies the problem.  Growing up is a hard row to hoe sometimes, and for a small, scrawny little kid like Tommy, it can be even tougher.  But everyone has their limits, even someone who you wouldn’t think could ever stand up for themselves.  A group of young boys on an afternoon fishing excursion is the stuff of sweet anecdotes and quaint paintings.  That is, until things go sour.  On this particular day, Roy, the town bully, really should have kept his mouth shut.

Get Faded Summer Leaves

Friday, March 9- the Trail

Are you afraid of the dark? What if you find yourself alone in the woods with the sun rapidly setting and darkness falling in all around you?  Would you be afraid then?  That’s the situation Aaron finds himself in as he realizes that his peaceful day of hiking is quickly turning into a nightmare when he underestimates how long it would take to get back to his car.  Alone in the woods, desperately trying to find a way out, he runs across a mysterious hiker who offers his help.  Should Aaron take it or find his own way to safety?  This Watershed Tales edition of The Trail includes the bonus tale, The Tell-Tale Heartache.  Amontillado lives a solitary life, father who ran out on him, mother who died years earlier and no one but the residents of the trailer park he resides in for company.  One Christmas day, a strange thumping sound attracts his attention and he goes on a quest to find its source.  The odd noise leads him to what he thinks he desires most, but will he like what he finds?

Get The Trail

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction For The Season–This Old House

So Halloween is finally here, and to wrap up this gloriously creepy celebration, I’ve got a spooky little treat for you.  Here, for the first time ever, is a previously unpublished short story, This Old House.  Betrayal, adultery and a quiet little rundown farmhouse as the unwelcome setting for murder.  Read on and enjoy! 

Thanks for reading over the past two weeks of The 13 Days of Halloween here at The Watershed Chronicle.  I sincerely hope you’ve found something to scare the wits out of you during this best of all holiday seasons.  Happy Halloween!

This Old House

She was a rather large house for this part of the country, made even more so by the utter bareness of her interior.  The constant winds glided over the surrounding cornfields, slamming into her graying clapboard sides with all the force a good, unimpeded gust could muster.  Her paint had peeled away years ago, leaving her looking as many people do when they age; old, gray and alone.  Her now-antique boards would occasionally bend or swell, producing the eerie creaking sound that so many young children suspect is a ghost or ghoul from beyond come to claim their souls, but is only just the settling of her weight over the ages.

This house has a personality, molded over decades of spring plantings and autumn harvests, through the good years and the bad.  Three generations of farmers had called her home, and the impressions they left behind will never fully be wiped away.  Over the decades, she had learned to be protective of her inhabitants, as a good mother should, keeping a watchful eye, a constant vigil over their safety.  But the people had left her long ago now, to wither away silent and alone here in this field.  Cobwebs make up her only furnishings, and virtually every window in her has been broken.

Nevertheless, standing here idle, she still looks strangely inviting.  To a weary traveler who has been moving through the brown and yellowed corn, the cool autumn air having drained the life from their once-brilliant emerald leaves, the sight of her on the horizon could be nothing if not a blessing.

Yes, she is alone now, and yet she is happy.  After years upon years of large families taking up every available inch of her space, and all of the hustle and bustle that the people brought with them, she has grown to appreciate the calm and restfulness she now has in abundance.  This aging home has grown quite used to quiet evenings listening to the winds rustle through the corn stalks.  Her only recent inhabitants have been the occasional field mouse taking advantage of her ample shelter after a long, hard day of roaming between the rows, in the constant search for food.  She does so enjoy the peace of her existence now, her time winding toward its inevitable end and, deep down, she doesn’t want it to be broken.

But on this night, the calm that she has so long cherished is snapped by something stirring in one of her upstairs bedrooms.  A series of moans emanating from the small room where the youngest children used to live and laugh and play and cry, echoed through her hollowed-out halls.  Inside that room was a man, struggling as he tried to regain consciousness.

The unknown man fought to get to his feet, but in his visibly weakened and unsteady condition, he immediately tumbled back to the floor, the resulting thud thundering through the old house.  A small candle illuminated the room, and the shadows from the flickering light exaggerated every false, uneasy move.

“Where the hell am I?” he asked groggily, to no one in particular.

The man lifted his head, scanning the empty room, searching for any landmarks or other clues to give away his whereabouts.  It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the inconsistent lighting.  The flame of the candle bouncing in the breeze, drifting through the busted glass of the window pane, didn’t allow for very good visibility.

Soon, however, his eyes did adjust, and the man realized he was alone in the filthy, rundown room.  The chill breeze from outside caused goosebumps to rise on his exposed forearms.  From his position on the dusty wooden floor, he looked out through the last remnants of jagged glass in the window, and could see a nearly full moon, partially obscured by passing clouds.

He cast his clearing gaze on the candle, which, other than the soft streams of moonlight, provided the only source of light in the room.  From the look of it, the long, thin taper candle had been lit very recently.  It was still somewhat rounded at the top, and no streams of melted wax had yet made their way trickling down its sides.

As his strength slowly began to return, the man once again attempted to climb to his feet, this time far more successfully as he finally made it, unsteady but upright.  He slowly circled the room a few times to make certain his legs were fully back beneath him, with light wisps of dust kicked up by each shuffling step, before beginning to explore.

“What happened to me?” he thought to himself as he knelt down to pick up the candle by its small brass holder, being sure to keep a cupped hand around the flame to stop it from blowing out.  Getting a closer look, the candle definitely did not appear to have been lit for very long, but who had done it?  And, more importantly, were they still around?  He searched his mind, trying desperately to remember what he had last been doing, scouring his still-fuzzy thoughts for any hints as to where he was or how he could have gotten here.

“Well, Will my boy,” he finally said to himself.  “You really did it this time.  Must’ve tied one on and now you have no clue where you are.  Or worse yet, who you’re with.”  He looked around the shabby, vacant room one last time, his glance hovering over several patches in the walls where the old plaster had fallen away into odd little piles of refuse on the floor, revealing the rows of thin wooden slats underneath.  “Maybe this is Hell.”

Will finally walked through the open doorway and immediately found himself at the end of a long hall.  Three other doorframes lined the way, and each was standing as open as the one he had just awakened in.  He peered into each room as he went by, passing the candle just over their thresholds, finding similar empty, dust caked wooden floors and busted out windows.

At the far end of the hall, he paused, staring down a large staircase leading to the ground floor of the decrepit old house.  Looking to the bottom, he recognized some small bursts of light that could only have been made by another flickering candle somewhere nearby on the first level. 

“So whoever brought me to this dump must still be around,” he thought to himself as he slowly worked his way down the stairs.  He took each step as lightly as he could, recoiling at every creak of his weight on the well-worn boards.  Without knowing what was going on, exactly, he figured it was best to keep as low a profile as possible.

But as Will reached the bottom of the staircase, he instantly saw the futility of his plan.  Sitting there, in a large room off to his left, he saw another man hunched over a small table, the candle that was throwing light in his direction standing squarely in its center.  The man was holding a deck of cards, playing something that looked like solitaire.  After a brief glance at his surroundings, the table and chair seemed to be the only furniture in the building.  Will considered his position for a moment, thinking better of a fleeting notion to make a break for the closed front door about five feet in front of him.  He finally turned to face the other man and was about to say something when the stranger caught sight of him and jumped up from the chair, leaving the cards scattered about on the table.

“Oh, I see you’ve finally decided to join me back here in the realm of the living,” the man said.  Will’s heart sunk as he immediately recognized the voice as that of Jack Person, one of his co-workers at Wilpon & Heccht Insurance, where he had pointlessly toiled away for the past decade.

“Yeah, Jack,” Will began, uneasily, “What the hell is going on here?”

“You mean you don’t know?  I must’ve put too much of that stuff in your food.  You know, I got it from a cousin of mine who works for a drug company just outside of New York.  He sent me a vial of that shit and doesn’t tell me how much to use.  All he said was that it’ll knock out a 500 pound man for three or four hours, and I figured, what the hell?  The worst it’ll do is kill ya, and I was gonna do that anyway.”

Will froze as he saw Jack pull a small handgun from behind his back and point it at him.  Then, suddenly, a loud bang rang out from somewhere up the stairs, startling both men, causing them each to shudder in surprise.  For an instant, Will had even thought he’d fired.

“Damn wind,” Jack said, still pointing the gun directly at Will’s chest.  “It’s been blowing the doors in this dump shut all night.  They really ought to tear this place down before it falls down.”

“Now, hold on a minute, Jack,” Will said, trying to sound soothing.  “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I’m sure we can work something out.  There’s no need to do anything drastic.”

The sudden fear for his life caused memories of earlier in the evening to come flowing back into Will’s apparently drug-addled mind.  He had gone to dinner at Jack’s house at his invitation, despite his better judgment.  He had expected to see Jack’s wife, Kathy, there–she was the one who had talked him into going, after all, convincing him that not to would be suspicious–but when he arrived, she was nowhere to be found.  Jack told him that she had gone home to see her parents, something about her mother becoming suddenly very ill.  Their affair had gone on for over a year without Jack’s knowledge, or so they had thought.

“Didn’t think I’d catch you, did ya?” Jack said, waving the gun in Will’s direction.  “You two thought you were so damned slick!”

“Where’s Kathy?” Will asked, hesitantly.

“I told you, she went home to her parents,” Jack chuckled as he spoke.  “At least part of her did, anyway.”

“What did you do?” Will demanded, sounding about as forceful as he could, the sick feeling in his stomach getting worse at the thought of what might have happened to Kathy.

“Boy, that was one helluva dinner earlier, wasn’t it?  Some really good stew.  That Kathy sure knows how to put food on the table,” Jack said, still cackling. 

“Where’s Kathy, Jack?” Will asked again, this time with less force.  He didn’t really want the answer.

“You know, we almost didn’t have it.  While I was cooking, I realized that we didn’t have any fresh meat, so I had to improvise,” Jack said, and through the darkened haze, Will could make out the giant grin on his face as he spoke.  “I always said she had good taste.”

Just the thought of what Jack implied made Will double over, dropping the candle by his side.  His stomach, already twisting and roiling from fear and the after-effects of the drugs, seized mightily and he spilled its contents all over the floor in several massive heaves.

“Aw, what’s wrong?” Jack asked, faking sympathy.  “A little cannibalism’s good for ya.  Keep’s the cholesterol down.”

“You sick bastard!” Will sputtered from his bent over posture, the vile, acidic taste of the vomit still fresh in his mouth.  Jack just laughed heartily, still pointing the gun at him.

“You won’t get away with this,” he said, wiping away some of the vomit from his lips.  It was a pathetic and cliched last attempt to put doubt into Jack’s mind, but Will, himself, knew it wasn’t at all convincing.  How could he be?

“Will, my friend, I already have gotten away with it.  I’ve been planning this for weeks.  I liquidated all of my assets and have the cash out in my car,” he said.  “After I get rid of you, I’m on my way to living out the rest of my days as the king of some Caribbean paradise somewhere.”

Jack walked over to where Will was still hunched over, his footsteps echoing lightly through that large room, and placed the barrel of the gun to the side of his head.

“Say goodnight, Will.”

At that instant, just before he was set to fire, the front door of the house that was closed directly behind Jack inexplicably flew open, blindsiding him and sending him and the gun flying into the large, open part of the room.  Will saw his chance.  He lunged across the floor toward where the gun now rested, just underneath the table, and grabbed it before Jack was able to compose himself.  Will stood up quickly, the sick feeling in his stomach passing, replaced by a burning rage, and pointed the gun at his would-be murderer.

“Say Goodnight, Jack,” Will said, but before he could fire, the house began to tremble.  Will staggered as the floor beneath him rocked, and he could hear doors all around the house slamming shut, then open, then shut, again and again.  He looked down at Jack, who was now curled up in the fetal position, visibly frightened.  Will wasn’t certain if he was afraid because of the sudden turn of events or the unexpected rumblings of the old house, and he really didn’t care.  The bastard deserved to be afraid, after what he’d done to Kathy.

“It’s just a damn earthquake,” Will said, the trembling still noticeable beneath his feet.  “We haven’t had one of those for years, but I have to say, the timing of this one was impeccable.  I’ll see ya around, Jack.”

Will steadied his aim through the rumbling, and squeezed off three rounds directly into the man’s chest.  Just as Jack let out his final breath, the shaking stopped as suddenly as it had started, and the peace and quiet of the secluded, rundown house was restored.

“See, I told you it was just an earthquake,” Will said, as he bent over and fished Jack’s car keys from his front pants pocket.   As he stood up, he tossed the gun onto the prone body and headed for the still-open front door.  Before he stepped outside, Will paused and turned back toward the body on the floor. 

“The king of some Caribbean island sounds pretty good to me, old buddy.  Thanks for the cash.”

He gave the now-departed Jack a short salute, then headed out onto the front porch, passing through the same door that only moments earlier had saved him from being the one shot dead on the floor.  As Will headed down the four steps leading from the porch to the overgrown walkway leading away from the house, he was day dreaming about the sun and the sand, and how much Kathy would have loved it.  Oh well, he thought to himself, there’s always other women.  Will smiled softly, but as he placed his foot on the bottom step, the board gave way under his weight and his leg went crashing through. 

Will lost his balance and pitched forward, but his leg was still stuck, shin deep, in the front step.  He heard the sickening crack of bone as his body fell but his leg couldn’t follow.  There was a momentary sharp explosion of pain from his leg, cut short only when his body twisted and his torso met the partially rotted picket fence that lined the walkway, impaling himself on one of the few remaining pointed posts still upright.

Will used the last of his strength to turn his head slightly toward the old house.  The final thing he saw from this vantage point was the front porch, with its railings somehow still intact, almost glowing in the soft moonlight.  He thought for just an instant that it looked as though the house were smiling.

Undaunted by the happenings of the night, the wind continued on its great, endless journey through the corn.  The old house settled once more in the calming breeze, a few various creaks and moans betraying her years.  Then, once again, she returned to having only the rustling stalks to break the silence.  This house, even at her age, has a personality.  And she does not appreciate having her quiet evenings disturbed.

This Old House, copyright 2011, Dan Meadows and Watershed Publications.  All rights reserved.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

The 13 Days of Halloween: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Alfred Hitchcock is one of those Hollywood folks whose films can be associated with various types of creative work.  Thrillers are probably what he’s best known for as, over the years, Hitch cranked out many excellent films with espionage, murder and other general all-around mayhem as the main component to their plots.  Hitchcock even frequently discussed his use of the MacGuffin, put simply, whatever it was the protagonists were fighting over, be that secret plans or, typically in his films, some vague, unspecified crucial thing that sets up all the thriller elements.

While I do seriously enjoy Hitch’s various array of thrillers, I’ve always been more of a fan of his horror films.  While many of his most famous works straddled the line between multiple genres, there are a few that I feel fall squarely into the horror category, and I believe they include some of the very cream of his cinematic efforts.

Before I get into my list, though, I want to give a specific shout out to four of his films, in particular, that simply straddled that line too far on the thriller side to be considered horror.  I also very briefly considered The Lodger, which is definitely in the horror genre as it’s based on Jack The Ripper, but ruled it out immediately.  It was Hitch’s first film, a silent one at that, and simply doesn’t hold up to the standards set by the other movies listed here.

I really wanted to have Vertigo on this list, mostly because it’s my single favorite Hitchcock film.  Jimmy Stewart gives simply an awesome performance as the troubled and almost creepy-obsessive main character.  And the plot, with its hints at ghosts, dopplegangers and an all around unhappy ending really had me struggling to overcome what I knew was true.  Vertigo is a sublime example of a richly textured psychological thriller, not a horror film.  It pained me to do so, but Vertigo is out.

Speaking of great performances from Jimmy Stewart, I had nearly a carbon copy internal conflict over the fantastic Rear Window.  Stewart was again wonderful, this time as a curious but helpless man stranded in his apartment, only able to watch a murderous plot unfold through his telescope, powerless to do anything about it.  In the end, though, even more than Vertigo, Rear Window was just too clearly a psychological thriller to make it on this list.

Another film I was compelled to leave out despite myself was Grace Kelly’s fabulous turn in Dial M For Murder.  A husband’s ruthless plot to have his wife murdered in a fake robbery goes awry when she manages to kill her would-be assailant.  Unfortunately for Kelly, she herself ends up being arrested for murder.  This is truly a great film, but after her arrest, the movie plays much more like a murder mystery than a horror film.  Despite my initial consideration, deciding to leave this one off was actually easier than either Vertigo or Rear Window.

The fourth film I seriously considered was Strangers On A Train.  In this one, Guy meets a mysterious man on a train trip who offers a bizarre bargain: he’d kill Guy’s wife in exchange for Guy doing away with the man’s father, thereby solving both of their problems.  Guy says no, but the man carries out his end anyway soon thereafter, by killing his wife.  While the setup has some elements of horror, this movie ultimately becomes a thriller/blackmail film.

So, which of Hitchcock’s films did make the cut?  Here are what I consider to be his five best actual horror films:

Psycho

Ok, so this one is obvious.  Psycho may well be the best horror movie ever made, and if not, it’s on an extremely short list.  Written by horror great Robert Bloch, Psycho set the standard for quiet, unassuming nice guy cum serial killer stories.  There’s a creepy old house, a creepy rundown motel, split personalities, cross dressing, desicated corpses and more.  Do I even need to mention the shower scene, quite possibly the single most famous scene in cinema history?  This is a totally creepy masterpiece of horror, no doubt about it.

The Birds

Like Psycho, there is simply no question that this is first, foremost and completely a horror film.  What starts as a seemingly innocent romantic flirtation turns downright frightening as a small coastal California town becomes ground zero for an all-out war on mankind by the area’s bird population.  Made well before the current environmental “green” movement, Mother Nature is pissed in this horror classic and she’s not gonna take it anymore.  Has there ever been a creepier scene than the end of this film, where the birds perched on every available surface magnanimously provide a brief reprieve from their all-out assault to give the few remaining people an opportunity to give up and get out?  If there is, I haven’t seen it.

Rope

Some may say that this film is a thriller, but I disagree.  It is very much a horror story.  Two college friends decide to kill a third friend before a graduation party just to see what it’s like to murder someone.  They then proceed to stuff the body into a trunk, put a table cloth over it and serve the party guests refreshments on it.  If that’s not horror, then I don’t know what is.  The cold, calculated manner of the killing, and the way in which the stronger of the two friends totally relished every moment of the tension during the lead up to and throughout the party was just simply psychopathic.  Besides, I already ruled out two great Jimmy Stewart Hitchcock films, no way I was leaving off a third.

This film may actually be more famous for the way it was filmed, presented in real-time, cleverly masking cuts to make it appear as one long continuous shot.  Those elements helped to build up the tension right from the start, opening as it did with the last gasp of the dying man, strangled by the title character, the rope.  Murder, madness and unfeeling evil sounds a lot like a horror movie to me.

Shadow of a Doubt

What many people, including the man himself, consider to be Hitchcock’s finest film, this is another thriller that I believe totally fits the bill as a horror movie.  Joseph Cotten is charming Uncle Charlie, come to pay a visit to his namesake niece in California.  What the young girl doesn’t know is that sweet Uncle Charlie is also the Merry Widow Killer, seducing and killing a series of wealthy widows, and part of his visit is motivated by a need to flee one of his recent bloody conquests. 

During his visit, young Charlie begins to suspect and finally confirms her Uncle’s murderous ugly side, and has to survive an attempt on her life, leading him to a gruesome face-first meeting with an on-coming train.  Serial killer, beautiful young girl marked for death, and a brutal comeuppance for the killer at the end.  Yup, this is a horror movie.

Frenzy

Hitchcock’s final film and one of his most horrifying.  The Necktie Killer is stalking London, strangling unsuspecting woman with, you guessed it, a necktie.  This film features one of the most disturbing scenes of rape and murder ever put on film, at least up until 1972, when this movie was released. 

Frenzy follows the killer as he plies his deadly trade all over town, and even leads police to pursue and arrest an innocent man for his crimes.  The murder scene alone, and I mean alone as it was so effective that it was the only actual murder shown in the film, rates this as a definite horror movie.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Today, for The 13 Days of Halloween, I have another piece of spooky short fiction.  It’s called The Trail, and it’s from my recently released short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  If there is a lesson to be learned here, its to always be prepared, especially when you go out on a day hike.  You just never know who you might meet.  And like all of us, the spirits get lonely sometimes, too.

The Trail

Aaron watched in growing fear as the shadows crept over the trees, shrouding the forest around him in an ever-increasing blanket of darkness.  The sounds of the animals rustling in the leaves, or the crickets chirping had seemed so natural and friendly earlier in the bright light of day.  This wooded landscape, so beautiful and awe-inspiring only a few hours ago, now seemed to be made up of the building blocks from his most horrid nightmares.  As the encroaching dark continued to drown out his vision, the formerly-welcoming array of sounds were beginning to take on an evil, unknown quality.  But at least he was still on the trail.

He has mis-timed how long the leisurely hike up the mountain would take.  By his best guess, the sun had just passed the horizon and Aaron was still at least three miles from where he had parked his truck.  The semi-darkness didn’t allow for a very good view of the path before him as he continued to scuffle along at a quickened pace.  One false step, and Aaron’s foot struck on a large rock protruding from the earth, causing him to lose his balance and topple to the ground, striking his elbow on another such jagged stone.  The sharp tinge of pain that shot up his arm forced a low yelp from Aaron in response.  He at least still had the capacity to muffle his cry so as not to attract undue attention to himself here, alone in the darkening forest.

Despite his growing apprehension, Aaron was slightly pleased he still managed to possess enough self-control to remain cautious.  Black bears and even some types of wild cats were known to roam these woods, and he wasn’t about to attract one if he could help it.  He collected himself from the ground and rubbed his sore elbow, feeling a small abrasion and a corresponding still-swelling bump, but luckily nothing was broken, this time.  With darkness continuing to fall, and his being without a flashlight or lantern of any sort, more such falls were almost inevitable.

From what he could still see through the shroud of trees above him, the sky was becoming increasingly overcast, as well.  That would effectively cut off any light he could have expected from the evening’s near-full moon.  Aaron couldn’t decide whether to continue on and further risk injury or try and find some sort of shelter nearby.  There appeared to be a clearing off to his left where he could build a fire.  If he stayed here, with no supplies except for a lighter, a small utility knife and a water bottle containing only a few more swallows, he would have to have a fire, he thought.  And now, he felt like a bigger fool than ever for his decision to leave his phone in the truck.  He’d wanted a nice, relaxing day, out of touch from the world constantly pushing at him through that little device.  Well, he got his wish. Aaron couldn’t be more out of touch with the world than he was right now.

He considered his predicament for a moment before deciding that a fire would be too risky.  If nothing else, the warmth would attract snakes, and that would be the last thing he needed.  But to stay here without a fire would be equally risky, if not worse.  The temperature was supposed to fall into the thirties overnight, and Aaron didn’t even have a well-insulated coat, let alone any blankets.  In the end, he thought he might be better off continuing onward, even in the dark, than to risk death from exposure.

“What the hell are you doin’ out here?” a voice suddenly called out through the darkness from somewhere behind Aaron, sending a stark fear bolting through him.  His mind instantly raced to all sorts of gruesome possibilities.  Maybe he had stumbled onto the killing grounds of some vicious mass murderer who lived out in these secluded woods.  It could be some whacko just waiting for people to get lost out here where help was nonexistent, so he could brutally kill them and use them for stew.

Aaron spun around to try and get a good look at this potential assailant.

“Uh, I, um, got a little mixed up and lost track of time,” Aaron said, knowing that it was probably not a good idea to give up too much information but figuring it was as good an explanation as any.

“Damn stupid kids,” the voice replied, getting slightly louder as it continued, sounding as though it was approaching.

Through the blackening haze, he finally began to make out the silhouette of a man, decked out in what appeared to be all the necessary hiking supplies he had neglected to bring himself.  As the man got closer, Aaron took a small step back, still uncertain of the stranger’s motivations.  The man’s voice sounded like someone in his mid-thirties, maybe older, but he still couldn’t make out a face to confirm his suspicions.  The darkness covered the man enough that he couldn’t make out very many specific details.  The only thing he could tell for certain was that he appeared to be wearing a heavy white coat and carrying a large dark blue or possibly black backpack.

“Look kid,” the man spoke again, “Do you have any idea where you are?”

“Yes,” Aaron replied, trying desperately to sound confident.  “I’m on the trail I started on this morning and I think my truck is just a couple miles further on.”

“You think?  You’re gonna get yourself killed not knowing where you are at all times out here,” the man scolded him.  “Got it?”

Aaron nodded slowly, not completely sure if the man could see his response.

“Look, if you’re not certain, you’d better find someplace to stay out here for the night then try and find your way back in the daylight.”

“That’s what I was trying to figure out,” Aaron said.  “I was gonna build a fire in that clearing over there.”

“Bad idea,” the man said, matter of factly.  “A fire out in the open like this’ll bring a bear right to ya.  And we’ve got timber rattlers out here, too, that love to curl up with campers beside the fire.  One of those bites ya way out here, and you’ll be dead before you ever get back to your car.

“There’s a small cave off of the left side of this trail here about a hundred yards on up.  I used it a couple years back when I got caught in a snowstorm.  You’ll be safe there.”

Aaron initially wanted to say no thanks to the man, was still more than a little unnerved by his sudden appearance from nowhere.  But he also didn’t want to spend the night out here in the cold.  Plus, the man’s mention of timber rattlers only added to his earlier fear of snakes.  The man, despite Aaron’s misgivings, did seem to know his way around the forest.  And he had said that he’d used the cave of which he spoke before, in conditions that must have been much worse than this.

The man began to walk away without waiting for a reply from Aaron, as if the matter had been settled.  The choice was abrupt and stark; stay here and get eaten or maybe freeze to death, or follow the man to the cave and pass an uncomfortable night hoping for the best.  Aaron finally made his call, deciding on what he considered to be the lesser of the two evils he now faced, and quickly followed the man.

The stranger walked over the rough and unseen terrain as smoothly as if he were crossing a linoleum kitchen floor.  Aaron, on the other hand, lost his balance, stumbled and nearly fell several times, but somehow willed himself to stay upright.  He didn’t want to appear any more incompetent than he already did.  They walked on for a brief few minutes before the man stopped and pointed to an area to the left of the trail.

“There’s the cave,” he said.

Aaron strained his eyes in that direction, barely making out a small patch that remarkably seemed to be darker than the surrounding area.

‘I really don’t wanna go in there,’ he thought instantly, but still went along with the suggestion because he didn’t want to offend the man who seemed so much more knowledgeable about survival that he was.

“I’ll go in first and check it out,” the stranger said, almost seeming to sense Aaron’s apprehension, “to make sure there aren’t any critters already living here.”

The man knelt down and disappeared into the small black hole.  Aaron waited impatiently in the dull, fading light, suppressing a sudden urge to turn and run back down the trail now, while the stranger couldn’t see him.

“It’s all clear,” the man’s voice eventually called out from the void with a slightly perceptible echo in its tone, “Come on down.”

Aaron took a deep breath, and made his way to the opening, testing each step before him slightly.  He put out his hand to feel his way into the cave when it came to rest on a large stone above the entrance.  Pausing for an instant for a closer examination, Aaron realized that the cave was actually just a crevice between a collection of much larger rocks, and not a hole leading into the ground as he had assumed.

He slowly bent down and made his way into the opening, still being extremely cautious of each step.  Soon, he reached what felt like a level floor, and he began to walk deeper into the cave.  Moving further into the darkness, Aaron found himself again questioning the man.  How did he get down here without a light, and why wasn’t there one on now?

“Excuse me, sir?” Aaron called out softly, hearing even his light, hesitant words bounce back at him from the rock walls.  “Are you there?”

Suddenly, a loud crash came from behind him, causing Aaron to let out a screech of shock and fear.  Unlike when he had tripped on the trail earlier, in here, in the chill air and total darkness, he hadn’t been able to muffle his unexpected cry.

‘Oh, screw this,’ he thought, and turned to try and head back out into the wilderness, feeling his way toward the entrance as he could no longer even make out the faintest hint of light before him.  But when he reached the place where he knew the cave’s opening had been, he found the way blocked by one of the large stones he’d felt as he’d entered.  Gripped by a sudden panic, Aaron pressed his shoulders into the stone, digging his feet into the ground and shoving with all the strength he could summon, but to no avail.  The rock would not budge even an inch.

Finally, calming himself slightly, he turned again to face the darkness of the cave.

“I think we’re trapped,” he said, unlike earlier, actually hoping the man was still in the cave with him and hadn’t been the one that moved that stone that now confined him.  Waiting a few seconds for a non-existent reply, Aaron finally yelled out, his fear starting to get the best of him.

“C’mon, say something!  What do we do?”

But still, there came no reply.  Aaron again made his way deeper into the cave, again feeling his way along the stone walls as he went.  His steps were slower and more deliberate, yet he still managed to strike something in the path before him, causing him to tumble forward to the dirt covered ground.  Aaron struggled to get himself upright again, but in the darkness, he had lost his bearings before finally finding the rock wall once again with his flailing, panic-driven arms.  Taking another deep breath or two, Aaron suddenly remembered the lighter in his pocket, quickly fishing it out and struggling to generate the flame, striking three or four times before finally bursting to light.

For an instant, his eyes were whited out by the sudden glare from the firelight in the intense black of the cave, but soon enough, they adjusted and he was able to make out the object he had fallen over.  Looking down at the thing at his feet, Aaron’s mind completely reeled from the awful sight, and he dropped the lighter, rushing the small cave back into total darkness.

Aaron didn’t dwell on it for very long, or make out much in the way of specific details, but he had seen enough in that single instant of clarity.  A decayed skeleton of a man was lying against the wall, and the only specifics he could make out were a battered white coat and the dust-covered dark blue, almost black backpack it appeared to be wearing.

The Trail, copyright 2011, Dan Meadows and Watershed Publications.  All rights reserved.

If you enjoyed what you just read, you can click on the link below to find out more about the book it came from, my new 13-story collection, Devil’s Dozen.

And for more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my original short story collection Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

A few days ago, I wrote an essay on why I believe horror writing is, indeed, an art form, and a massively under-appreciated one, at that.  Over the years, I’ve consumed absurd amounts of horror literature, from ancient texts to more modern classics to some of today’s emerging artists, as a quick glance at my bookshelf reveals.  (And I’m talking actual bookshelf here, actually standing in my dining room, overflowing with more books than could ever fit onto its seven-foot frame.)

As always, some works stand out more than others.  For whatever reason, some tales and their creators tend to resonate with different people in different ways.  Instead of offering up a best-of list or something similar, I thought I’d just go through a half a dozen books among the many, that stuck with me, inspired me a bit, if you will.

The Haunting of Hill House–Shirley Jackson

Best book ever.  Hands down.  Bar none.  This book has stopped me from ever really writing a full-on haunted house story because there is simply no earthly (or unearthly) way that I could improve upon the perfection of Jackson’s masterpiece.  This story has so many levels that it still takes some time after reading it to figure out what exactly had gone on.

Was the house actually haunted?  Was Eleanor the one doing the haunting herself?  I’m still not sure.  I alternate every time I read it; and I’ve read it a lot.  My copy is a crumbling paperback held together by a rubber band at the moment–a testament to a well-used life. 

Sometimes, I’m convinced that the house really is an evil force and poor, sensitive, fragile little Eleanor is the perfect bait for its unholy attentions.  But then, other times, I persuade myself that the house is totally benign, and that Eleanor is the protagonist, taking a mind that was on the brink to begin with and dropping all the way into madness and obsession within the house.  I’m just not sure either way, and that’s part of what makes this book so perfect.  It doesn’t really matter. 

I Am Legend–Richard Matheson

What Shirley Jackson’s aforementioned novel did for haunted houses, Matheson’s I Am Legend has done for vampires, and to a lesser extent, zombies.  That is, after reading this, I just couldn’t conceive of a more unique angle for a vampire/undead tale, so why try?

Let me say, I didn’t care for the Will Smith film version.  I like the old Charlton Heston version, The Omega Man, a little better, but it still didn’t bring the book across in all its glory.  Sometimes, that’s just not possible, and this book, short as it is (not even 200 pages) may be one of those. 

The gist of this story, however echoes through mainstream horror to this day.  Reanimated, undead corpses caused by a mutant bacteria unleashed in a massive epidemic infecting nearly the entire planet.  Sound familiar?  This book, while ostensibly about vampires, actually invented the entire zombie genre that pervades everything these days.

The book’s conclusion is near-perfect to my way of thinking.  You never consider such things, that in a world populated with vampires and zombie vampires, a lone human being would become an object of fear and superstition.  I just love the fact that the Legend referred to in the title is not at all what I expected it meant before I read the book.

Something Wicked This Way Comes–Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is an interesting guy.  It’s hard to pin down exactly what genre he works in, and I believe that’s the way he likes it.  Many times, I find the Bradbury books lumped in with science fiction, but I don’t think that fits completely.  Something Wicked This Way Comes, however, is unambiguous.  It’s horror, plain and simple.

Rolling into the idyllic little burg of Greentown one autumn comes a carnival.  It’s leader, a Mr. Dark, secretly entices patrons to live their fantasies, but for a price.  Those who partake become bound to the carnival, and immortalized as a tattoo on Mr. Dark’s body.

The story is told in Bradbury’s best, creepiest voice, even making the darkness and decay of the carnival beautiful in a haunting sort of way.  It’s a basic battle between good versus evil at its core, but the elements of temptation, desire, and a yearning for one’s lost youth carve out a richly spooky landscape.

The conclusion can seem a bit light and fluffy, especially for a book as genuinely creepy as this one, but it doesn’t bother me.  Mr. Dark is evil and feeds off of darker emotions.  It makes some sense that positive emotions could give him fits.  But that’s only a minor issue.  This book is simply a beauty of atmospheric horror. 

Dracula–Bram Stoker

Of the classic Victorian horror novels, Dracula always was my favorite.  Frankenstein has its place but was a little too much like a philosophy class for my taste.  Jekyll and Hyde was a good look at the darkness that lives in all men, but Stevenson’s writing, even on darker subject matters like Hyde, always seemed much better suited to children’s epic adventures like Treasure Island.  For my money, Dracula is the best of that group.

Bram Stoker, by all reports a somewhat repressed personality himself, did manage to draft a very dense and comprehensive tale that treats the concepts of love and sexuality in a manner very un-Victorian.  The mysterious count leaves his Transylvanian abode to travel to London to find what he believes to be his long lost love.  By now, everyone knows the gist of the tale.  But Stoker writes it in such a way that the theme of temptations of the flesh that runs throughout is almost palpable.  And I, for one, like the ending.

There is no way Dracula is dead.  Certainly, he was stabbed through the heart and dissolved into dust, but I think that was a ruse.  The book itself even set up the use of a wooden stake through the heart earlier, why would a simple bowie knife work at the end on the most powerful of all vampires?  It wouldn’t.  The count wanted them to believe him dead.  That’s my take, and I’m sticking to it.  Dracula lives on!

Night Shift–Stephen King

Stephen King might not be anywhere near the class of writers that make up much of this list, but I would be remiss if he didn’t play some part.  If you liked horror during the time I grew up, you simply couldn’t avoid King’s work.  I read many of his novels–Pet Cemetery likely being my favorite–but it was always his short stories I enjoyed the most.  And his first collection of those stories, Night Shift, has stayed with me through the years.

The amount of material in Night Shift that later became films or other works is startling.  Salem’s Lot, Graveyard Shift, The Mangler, Maximum Overdrive, The Lawnmower Man, Cat’s Eye, Sometimes They Come Back, Childen of the Corn and more I’m sure I’m forgetting, all had their origins in this one little story collection from the late ’70s.

While I’ve often felt King’s novels were over-long and a bit rambling, I always considered him an underrated short story writer.  Maybe it’s because his ideas are distilled more in a short story, I don’t know, but if I read any of King’s work today, it’ll almost always be Night Shift or his later short story collection, Skeleton Crew.

Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre–H.P. Lovecraft

While I’m on the subject of short stories, another of my favorite books is this collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s work.  If you’ve never read Lovecraft, you should.  His world is one where the very fabric of reality hangs by just a thread and there are always bigger, darker, scarier beings waiting just behind the veil to cross over.

Lovecraft writes is such a nicely polished way, yet much of his work sets you at immediate unease.  He frequently describes how angles in a room or structure have an unsettling affect, but his prose is much the same.  Reading Lovecraft just puts you slightly off, uncomfortable, if you will. 

So many times in his tales, events take a wild, seemingly insane turn, yet his characters adapt as if they’re going to the grocery store as they try to stop a 100,000 year old creature from crossing into this realm and wreaking havoc.  Very few writers more clearly allow you to relate to someone’s descent into total madness as Lovecraft does. It makes his work simultaneously exhilarating and disconcerting.  What better advertisement could you need for a horror author?

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

For as long as people have been telling stories, horror has been one of the most popular elements to get their message across.  Look at the myths of the ancient Greek gods with some of their undoubtedly terrifying aspects–the minotaur, anyone, half man, half beast creature living in a maze and eating people he finds there?  The legend of Beowulf, one of the oldest stories ever told, included no less than three hideous monsters that did not hesitate to rip men apart.  Even Shakespeare used horror to great effect with ghosts and witches scattered throughout various tales.  And don’t forget Titus, where the title character kills a woman’s two sons for revenge and feeds them to her at a dinner party.  That’s about as clear a horror element as I’ve ever seen in a story.

There are many other examples of great works of horror throughout history.  Chistopher Marlowe’s The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus still resonates to this day with its notion of making deals with the Devil.  In Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a seamen brings a curse down on his shipmates by killing an albatross.  The crew are all killed one by one, the ship sinks and the mariner is left to wander for eternity telling his tale.  Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first of his three part epic The Divine Comedy, is a tour through the nine circles of torment in Hell.  Horror, perhaps more than any other literary technique, echoes down through time.

Horror has always been a crucial aspect of literature, and it remains so to this day.  Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of its true value and rich history.  Generally these days, horror writing is squeezed into one of the many limiting genre boxes, right alongside mysteries, westerns and romance, among others.  There are some who even dismiss horror as throw-away pulp writing, and you can forget trying to convince some in the higher circles of the writing world that horror fits any definition of “literary” at all.

It’s true that there are a lot of throw-away horror books out there, efforts that depend on cliched vampires or other creatures, lowest common denominator gore, or hanging their hat on a “shocking” twist we’ve read or seen 50 times before.  But that’s no different than any other genre, even so-called literary fiction, which can be pointless and self indulgent just as frequently or more so than it can be exceptional.  The amount of bad or mundane works  is something attributable to all genres of writing, literary or otherwise.

When done well, however, few mediums are able to express broad ideas, translate powerful emotions, or make a tale stick to our ribs as readers, as it were, like horror.  Despite this proven and time-tested capacity, to today’s supposedly evolved sensibilities, it’s almost totally dismissed as a true art form.

But if you look closer, some of the most famous and far-reaching tales in the English language are horror stories.  How much would Halloween be diminished if Washington Irving had never written The Legend of Sleepy Hollow?  How much would Christmas be diminished if Charles Dickens had not penned A Christmas Carol?  And what of Edgar Allan Poe, a man who could arguably be considered the greatest American writer, or at the least, he’s on a very short list.  Poe wrote some of the darkest, most disturbing stories ever penned and in a style almost Shakespearian in its rhythms.  No one can read Poe and deny that he was truly an artist of the first order.  And he wrote horror best and above all else.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is, in essence, a philosophical treatise on the nature of life and existence.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a fierce attack on the repressed nature of Victorian England, particularly with regards to sex.  Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a sociological study in class structure and morality.  All three of these books have saturated our culture to the point of reforming most people’s conceptions of their original intent.  These were no mere toss-away monster stories.  They were crafted using horror to express ideas about the cultural issues of the days in which they were written.  Those same matters still resonate to this day, primarily because the monsters and the horrors they wrought, have stayed with us.  Even somewhat perverted as their title characters have become by mass culture, can you imagine a world with no Dracula, no Frankenstein’s monster, or no Mr. Hyde?

Horror literature brings out the worst and the best in us.  It calls us out on our cruelties, our excesses and our hypocricies, deftly employing the monster as metaphor to challenge our very beliefs and actions.  And for all of this, what do we get?  A small shelf in the back of the bookstore, and a subservient position behind the literary and mainstream fiction worlds, lumped in with other segmented genres so as to be easily definable, categorized and kept on the fringes.  For all it’s done over the centuries, all the issues it has tackled head-on that other forms of writing were either afraid or incapable of addressing, horror fiction deserves much better.

Horror has brought so much more to the world than the stereotypical monsters and unmitigated gore that makes up its popular representation today.  In its heart of hearts, horror writing is a true art form, one without which, we would be left with a giant vacant place in our souls.  We should respect horror not simply for all the things the form has done in the past, but for all it has yet to accomplish. We’re living in dark times these days.  We need horror to reflect that darkness back on us, and to show us the way toward the light.

Here is a link to a piece about a few of the books that inspired me growing up, and taught me the essential value of horror in storytelling.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

The 13 Days of Halloween: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Earlier, I wrote a tribute/lament about the late, great Vincent Price and how there hasn’t been a true horror movie icon since his passing in 1993 and doesn’t appear to be one coming any time soon.  Well, in honor of my favorite scary movie actor in this, my favorite time of year, here are a few of my all-time favorite Vincent Price films.  I don’t pretend to be all-encompassing–he did so many films during his 50+ year acting career, that would be next to impossible.  But when I’m looking for a Price-fix, as it were, these films come to mind more often than not.

House of Wax (1953)

Professor Henry Jarrod was a genius in wax.  He lovingly created some of history’s most famous people in unbelievably lifelike detail.  That is, until his business partner torches the wax museum for the insurance money with Jarrod and all his creations inside.  Somehow, he managed to survive but is horribly disfigured and unable to resume his work.  Jarrod, with the help of two apprentices, eventually makes a comeback with a new house of wax and a decidedly darker approach.

This one, along with House on Haunted Hill, later were ignominiously given horrid Hollywood remakes, somehow managing to miss the point of both original films completely.  Stay far away from those, unless you want to be horrified in a totally unenjoyable way.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Anton Phibes was a brilliant organist, scientist and equally brilliant muderous mastermind.  A group of nine doctors and nurses presided over the death of Phibes’ wife after a car accident that disfigured Phibes himself.  The good doctor executes an elaborate sequence of hideously clever murders based on the ancient plagues of Egypt, knocking off those Phibes blamed for the death of his wife one at a time, leading up to a grand finale the jigsaw killer would be proud of. 

This film earned a sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, which falls well short of the original, and another similar film, Theatre of Blood.  In that one, Price is an actor bent of destroying his critics in elaborately themed Shakespearean ways.  It’s not as well-done as Phibes, but still pretty entertaining.

The House on Haunted Hill (1959)

Frederick Loren is an unhappily married millionaire hosting a party for his wife, Annabelle, in a presumably haunted house.  The guests of honor at this ostensibly supernatural shindig are five strangers who each have been offered $10,000 if they can just make it through the night in the house.  Betrayal and death ensues, leading to an unexpected twist ending.  Are there really restless spirits at work in the creepy house or fiendish motives of a more earthly sort?

Like House of Wax, this one suffered a terrible remake that played up the supernatural at the expense of the whole point of the original film.  Where this version was about deception and all-too-human greed and aspirations, the newer model traded much of that for special effects and many haunted house cliches.  It was just sad.

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960)

Roderick Usher is a man resigned to his fate.  He lives in the crumbling estate of his family, a fitting mausoleum for the quickly approaching end of the Usher line.  His sister, Madeline, is torn between a desire to marry and flee from her past and the belief instilled in her by her brother that she, like all the Ushers, is cursed and will meet a foul end sooner than later.  When his sister appears to have died, the whole tenuous foundations holding up the Usher family, and the house itself, come crumbling down.

This is one of several adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe tales, and I believe the best of the bunch. Some of the better films in Price’s Poe series include The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia and a couple mentioned further down this list.  In Usher, Price expertly presents a man’s descent into madness, dragging his sister with him in the process.  He even sports some unique violin stylings that are among the creepiest things I’ve ever heard.

Tales of Terror (1962)

This film presents a series of three stories also adapted from the works of Poe.  Morella is a story of a father and his estranged daughter’s reunion that blurs the line between life and death.  In The Curious Case of M. Valdemar, Price plays a man on his deathbed who agrees to be hypnotized at the moment of death as part of an experiment to try and stave off death itself but soon finds his soul held hostage by the hypnotist.  In the Black Cat, Price plays a wealthy socialite whose taste for fine wine turns to a taste for the wife of an unemployed drunkard with fatal consequences.  This one is a mix of the title story and The Casque of Amontillado, and includes a fantastic performance by Peter Lorre.

Lorre also appeared in the adaptation of The Raven, along with Price and a superstar cast including Boris Karloff and a very young Jack Nicholson. The Raven is more comedy than genuine horror, but it is still an overall enjoyable film.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 6: Hauntings of the High Seas

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

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