The 2008 Halloween Buffet

Here we go, ladies and gentlemen, my Halloween recommendations for 2008. I’m changing it up a little this year.  Instead of rec’s for stories, movies, comics, and books, you’ll just be getting stories this year.  Many apologies.  The last few months have been rough ones.  I promise to make it up to you by spacing out further recommendations over the coming weeks.


“Harvest” by Norman Partridge.
Starting with the wonderful image of a man peeling an orange to find a bloody skull inside, this story grabs hold of your mind and starts twisting.  Is the hero of this story losing his mind, or is something more sinister happening?  Partridge really makes you wonder, and the climax he builds to will leave you shaking. Available in The Man with the Barbed Wire Fists.

“Llama” by Bentley Little.
A man finds a dead llama in the alley behind his workplace.  He discovers secrets in its measurements, connections to his life and the deaths of his family.  As the man becomes more and more fascinated with the dead animal, we learn that patterns can exist in anything and that the human mind can be very dangerous.  Available in The Collection.

“The Owen Street Monster” by J.L. Comeau.
Through a series of phone calls, we learn the terrible secret of The Owen Street Monster.  This was one of the first horror tales to really grab me and show me the potential of the genre, and it’s contained in the first anthology I ever truly loved.  Available in Borderlands 3.

“Shadder” by Tom Piccirilli.
A failed Hollywood hotshot returns to the family farm to tell his brother he’s selling.  There are secrets at the farm, however, and the birds whisper terrible things.  Available in Cemetery Dance # 52.

“N0072-JK1” by Adam Corbin Fusco.
The genuine masterpiece is presented as a scientific study of the human “tickle reflex.”  It is written with such clinical detachment that at first you’re not sure that such terrible things are really happening.  By the end, you can’t help but be terrified.  One of the best stories I’ve ever read.  Available in From the Borderlands.


October, Weekend Four

Rolling through the month, and it just keeps getting better.  This weekend we held our annual Halloween Horror Movie Night, and much fun was had.  This year, I got to see a pair of classics I’d never watched for whatever reason.  I also watched an Asian classic and an overhyped bit of dreck.

I don’t get it.  I’m sorry, but I really don’t.  The first one was okay, despite Cary Elwes forgetting how to act.  Its sequel, which I’ve heard is the best of the series, is awful.  For one thing, at no time does it make any attempt at being scary.  It’s not an action movie, either.  Not really a mystery.  I don’t get the fucking point.  This is just a bad movie from the word “Go.”

The first un-watched classic.  A monument of eighties excess and cheese.  This one knows it’s a cheesy horror movie, and it embraces its destiny from the opening frame.  I finally got to see “that scene,” and it was just as cringe-and-laughter inducing as I imagined.

The other un-watched classic.  I’m a little more torn on this one.  It was fun, sure, but Phantasm lacks anything even resembling a plot.  From the first scene and on, it’s nothing but a collection of frightening images.  Of course, I know if I’d seen this as a kid it would have scared the pants off me, so I guess there’s always that.

Before The Ring came to American shores, there was Ringu.  It amazes me that a movie stripped of all the excess crap lumped on it by American producers (and I say this as somebody who loved the US version), can still be so much richer and complex.  The simple scene of the ex-husband sitting alone on a bench as Sadako walks up to him is terrifying.  He does nothing but look at her feet, but the fear and terror is so full on his face.  Powerful stuff.

Later this week, I’ll bring you this year’s story and comics suggestions.  Until then, enjoy your October.

October, Weekend Three

Three weeks in, it feels like October is picking up steam.  I managed to read through my latest manuscript again, and today I’ll start working on the final draft.  I also managed to put up the Halloween decorations, check out House of Torment (comments on this below), and watch four horror flicks.  What did I watch?  Glad you asked!

DAWN OF THE DEAD (original): Let’s face it, some things just don’t age so well.  This is one of them.  I first saw this in college, and I seriously thought I was watching a comedy.  It features a zombie pie fight, for crying out loud.  Still enjoyable, but I’m not sure I’d call it “classic.”

FIVE ACROSS THE EYES:  Hmm.  The acting, direction, plot, and cinematography are all pretty bad (the acting borders on awful), but you kinda want to say, “Well done!” after watching.  This flick, shot entirely within the confines of a van over the course of nine days, managed to get a distribution deal and a spot in some festivals.  Not bad, when you think about it.  It’s certainly more than I’ve ever achieved.

FEAST: Fun.  Really, nothing else describes it.  This high octane monster-fest is just a silly, gross, fun movie.  Anything that features Henry Rollins in pink sweat pants and Jason Mewes getting his face eaten off (and actually acting beforehand) is worth a look. Plus, Navi Rawat… purrrr.

DAWN OF THE DEAD (remake): Still one of my fav horror movies.  Again, high octane and fun, with some solid acting and incredible action.

So, Saturday night Shawna and I hit House of Torment with Lee Thomas and his partner, John.  We had a great time. House of Torment is still the best haunted house in Austin, and their new online ticketing system really make the wait a short one.  Still, something didn’t sit right with me.

See, going back to that Jaycees Haunted House, I like my haunts to tell a story.  At Jaycees, they ushered a group of ten people into a room, and a scene played out.  Then they moved you into the next room and the next scene.  The experience lasted close to an hour, and it was terrifying.

By comparison, they send ten people into House of Torment without a tour guide, and you just walk.  You don’t stop for anything.  You keep moving, and actors attempt to scare you.  There is no story.  Even this years theme, Contagium, which was supposed to be a alien invasion/infestation sort of thing, didn’t provide anything resembling a story.  There’s an incredible main room showing a ruined urban environment, but you just walk through it while people yell at you.  And by the end you have a demonic clown dancing around in front of you.  There’s no real action, and there’s very little cohesion.

And I think that’s a shame.  Maybe it’s down to population.  The Jaycees were dealing with maybe a quarter of the paying customers House of Torment sees.  And I’m certainly not saying House of Torment puts on anything other than a great show.  I’d just love to see something with a story, a single thread that carries you from beginning to end.  Man, that would be great.

My first haunted house

Here at Casa de Southard (or something like that), I’m currently bogged down in a rewrite of a novel I must finish by the end of the month.  Maybe that sounds easy to you.  Well, it’s not.  Trust me.  If I could kick myself in the crotch, I would.  It would take away some of the pain.

Or I could just write a blog entry about experiencing my first haunted house.

Now, before anybody gets some idea that I think I’ve lived in actual factual haunted buildings, let me clarify.  I’m talking about those haunted houses that spring up around Halloween.  Some places call them Haunts, and others call them Haunted Attractions.  I call them Haunted Houses because in my hometown of Aurora, Indiana there was only one place to go… the Jaycees Haunted House.

For many years, the local Jaycees put on a haunted house in what I’m told was an abandoned school behind the fire station off of Conwell Street in Aurora.  The building–just a few blocks away from the Aurora Casket Company, I might add–looked like it should be haunted.  Made out of brick that had turned black over the years and featuring more broken windows that you’ve ever seen, the place was a massive monument to creepiness.  Years before I’d ever attended the haunted house, I was terrified of the place.  I don’t know if it’s still standing, but I’d probably be scared of it today.

So when I was seven, my brother Matt and I convinced our parents to take us to the haunted house.  I know now this was probably a little early for me.  Years later, I can only remember three things about the place: the line, the first room, and squeezing my eyes shut during the final maze.  Everything in the middle is a blur, and that’s largely because the first room was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.  To this day, I still hold it as the gold standard of haunted attractions.

And here’s what happened…

I don’t recall how many people were in our group, but I know they led us into the basement, where the show began.  We walked into a funeral parlor, where a body lay in a casket and a priest delivered a eulogy.  A group of mourners sat in chairs in front of the casket.  The entire scene was created in great detail.

My eyes zoomed in on the body in the casket.  I knew, just frickin’ knew, that thing was going to get up and attack.  Well, no way in hell was I gonna let such a cheap scare get me.  So I watched and I waited.  And waited.  The funeral service continued, and the suspense grew, and I just knew everybody else was watching the body just like me, waiting for it to attack.

But then the left hand wall blew open.  Nobody had seen the hidden door, but when the strobe lights hit and the shrieking woman with the scraggly black hair and blood-covered face leaped out, we sure as hell noticed.  To this day, I don’t know when they snuck somebody into our tour group, but the shrieking woman grabbed this girl and dragged her back into the doorway.  The girl’s screams arced higher than the monster’s.

Then the lights went out, and everything went instantly silent.

I have no idea how we left the room, no idea when the tour guide ushered us into the next portion of the house.  All I know is I was terrified beyond belief for the next few hours.  Almost 25 years later, I still haven’t seen a more effective use of misdirection.

I wonder if I ever will.

So tell me your haunted house stories.  What have you found effective?  What were your favorites?  Spill!

October, Weekend Two

I meant to put up the halloween decorations this weekend, but the same form of laziness that kept me from answering the phone or bathing also kept me from going outside except for a movie and a trip to the comics shop.  Well, and a free meal, but that was a free meal and involved the words “pulled pork.”  It was worth it.

But fear not, true believers.  My modest Halloween decrations will be on display within the next day or so.  I also plan to buy some more this weekend, provided I don’t spend too much money at House of Torment.

In the meantime, here are the flicks I saw this past weekend…

A television crew shadowing a pair of fire fighters finds themselves documenting an outbreak of a mutated rabies strain in an apartment building.  This highly-enjoyable remake of [REC] has a lot going for it.  Nice acting throughout, and some great effects.  I caught a matinee, and I was still scared out of my gourd by the final reel.  I will say, however, that the advertising for this movie gives away far too much, including the last ten seconds.

This no-budget indie from a couple years back offers some great laughs along with a chill or two.  A loser finds an inventation to a murder party and decides he has nothing better to do.  He encounters a group of pathetic “artists” planning to use him as their latest “piece” in order to receive grant money.  I think I might like any movie that contains the dialogue, “Fuck this scene.  Everyone dies.”

NEAR DARK (1987)
Folks have been recommending this flick to me for years.  I’ve heard words like “great” and “classic” used time and time again.  Well, I finally watched it, and I can’t say I see what all the fuss is about.  Featuring horrific performances and plodding pacing, I was actually up and cleaning the house through the last five minutes (otherwise known as “when the slightest fucking thing happens”).  I’m pretty sure the first hour of the movie is all about Adrian Pasdar walking around while holding his stomach and grimacing in pain.  Pass!

October, Weekend One

Here we are, ladies and gents.  October has rolled around once again.  This favorite month of mine will be with us for 25 more days, and I plan to enjoy each and every last one of them.  A special writing project I’ve decided to tackle will take up most of my time, but it’s all in the spirit of Halloween.

As usual, I spend much of my October weekends watching horor movies.  I can’t dedicate as much time to flick-watching this year because of the above writing project, but I did manage to squeeze in a pair of great movies this weekend.

THE FLY (1986, Cronenberg version)
I spent a year of my life watching this and Aliens on VHS.  That was twenty years ago though, and I hadn’t seen the movie since.  I am happy to say this love story/thriller/gross out masterpiece still holds up.  I really do need to go back and watch all the Cronenberg movies.

What can I say?  This one’s a classic.  It not only changed horror movies, but it inspired an entire generation of creators.  If you haven’t seen this one, you’re missing out on a cinematic cornerstone.

The rest of October will bring more horror movies, as well as my short story recommendations.  Let’s have some fun!


Fantastic Fest Wrap Up

It’s taken me a bit of time to get to this.  To tell the truth, my feelings on the subject are a little mixed.  By the time Fantastic Fest rolled around on September 18th, I was super excited.  I had plans to catch 25-30 of the films on the scedule.

Around 10AM on the 18th, everything went to hell.  Right around that time, a family emergency/tragedy (that did not involve my brother contracting rabies) began.  Said event didn’t come to a close until a week later, on the next-to-last day of the festival. 

Long story short, the 30 movies I wanted to see ended up being four.  That means the $120 badge I paid for translated to $30 per movie.  Some things you just can’t avoid, though.

I will say I had a great time during my short stint at Fantastic Fest.  I saw some great movies (Rule of Three, The Wreck, and Donkey Punch) and only one stinker (Ex-Drummer).  I got to stand in line with other movie geeks (and Bill Pullman), ate some incredible food, and drank the best chocolate malt I’ve ever had.  I’ve already bought my tickets for next year, and I hope like hell nothing gets in the way of my attendance in 2009.

I highly recommend Fantastic Fest to any lover of horror, sci-fi, crime, or just plain weird movies.  I’m sure it’ll be even better when I can take an entire week for it.