2017 Supreme

Along with a certain sphere in Times Square, a whole host of best-ofs, top __ countdowns, and retrospective summations drop at year’s end. Perusing these innumerable lists/articles/videos, though, can be a tremendous time suck, draining away from the pleasurable hours that might be spent consuming the actual items identified. So for those looking for a quicker 2017-in-review fix, I offer the following listing of some of the year’s best look-backs on the world of horror:

Barnes and Noble: The Best Horror Books of 2017

Chicago Review of Books: The Best Horror Books of 2017

Vanity Fair: Why 2017 Was Such a Big Year for Horror

PopSugar: 11 Truly Masterful Horror Films That Came Out in 2017

Bloody Disgusting: These Are the 13 Most Disturbing Horror Movie Moments of 2017

Bloody Disgusting: Here Are the 15 Best Monsters of 2017!

Entertainment Weekly: Stephen King Q&A: Pennywise’s Creator on Scaring the Hell Out of 2017

WatchMojo: Pennywise 1990 vs. 2017


Looper: The Most Underappreciated Horror Movies Released in 2017


Finally, to round out this out post, I’ll add a list of my own to the mix. I put this one together because Fright-Rags is the pinnacle of macabre fashion (and perhaps because I’m pining for t-shirt weather at this time of year!).

The Top 10 T-Shirts On Sale at Fright-Rags at Year’s End


Horripilation Compilation



This one’s a Keeper


3.Halloween III

If only the movie was as good as what’s depicted here


4.The Silence of the Lambs

Watch out for Chianti stains





6.The Shower Scene

Murderin’ Marion


7.I Am the Way

That’s my pleasure, sir



Smiling for a head shot


9.Trick ‘R Treat

Sam and ensemble


10.London After Midnight

Beware of what this guy’s drinking on New Year’s Eve


The Gunman’s Oxymorons

Reading Joe Hill’s “Loaded” (from Strange Weather, which I reviewed here) led me to look back on, and revise, a poem I had written several years back. The piece was originally occasioned by my personal fear of gun violence.


The Gunman’s Oxymorons

By Joe Nazare


loving wife
adorable children

lifetime achievement
moderate drinking

sure bet
savings account

employee benefits
company loyalty

weapons permit
workplace safety

innocent bystanders
pronounced silence


Hill of the King: A Review of Strange Weather

Stephen King (Different Seasons; Four Past Midnight) isn’t the only horror writer to publish thematically-grouped novella quartets (cf. Charles Grant’s Dialing the Wind; The Black Carousel), but he is undoubtedly the most popular. Joe Hill, though, might soon threaten his father’s reign, as evidenced by his latest collection Strange Weather.

The opening novella, “Snapshot,” appears to pick up right where the finale of Four Past Midnight left off. Much like “The Sun Dog,” Hill’s story deals with a young protagonist’s encounter with a paranormal camera, which in this case doesn’t capture moments but actually erases the subject’s memories. This alien technology from another reality could have come straight from the Dark Tower multiverse. A coming-of-age tale, “Snapshot” even references Stand By Me (not coincidentally, Will Wheaton narrates the audio version of the novella), but such invocation only throws the loneliness and “adolescent sadness” of the obese thirteen-year-old Michael Figlione into starker contrast. The narrative’s mysterious and perfectly nasty villain, the Phoenician, is perhaps vanquished too easily and too early on, but the long anticlimax does a fine job of establishing the American Gothic elements of the figure’s photographic endeavors (which trace back to a heinous act of domestic violence). For all its fantastic elements, “Snapshot” reminds us of the natural ravages of senescence; it is a haunting tale that won’t fade from consciousness anytime soon.

“Loaded” is the longest of the four pieces collected here, and the most frighteningly realistic (arguably that Hill has ever written). Mall security guard Randall Kellaway is hailed as a hero when he stops a potential mass shooting, but the circumstances of his intervention set off a chain reaction of events that culminates in an explosive climax. Hill makes poignant points about racism and gun violence, but without ever climbing up onto a soapbox. With its large cast of diverse characters whose storylines inevitably intersect, “Loaded” forms the author’s literary equivalent of Crash, and is just as award-worthy.

In “Aloft,” a parachuting mishap renders Aubrey Griffin a “Robinson Crusoe of the sky”–stranded in cumulonimbic limbo, on a sentient and wondrously protean cloud island. The scenario is a prime example of the soaring flights of fancy Hill is so apt to produce, and allows him to flex his writing muscles via passages of astonishing description (e.g. “Ohio lay beneath him, an almost perfectly flat expanse of variegated squares in shades of emerald, wheat, richest brown, palest amber. […] Ruler-straight ribbons of blacktop bisected the fields below. A red pickup slid along one of these black threads like a bright steel bead on an abacus.”). “Aloft” is at once humorous and profoundly human (in its meditation on unrequited–and also unrecognized–love). With its glimpses of both the exhilaratingly beautiful and the awful (the unworldly flying object doesn’t lack a Lovecraftian aspect), the narrative epitomizes the sublime. This one reads like a lost masterpiece from the glory days of Amazing Stories.

Fans of Hill’s last novel, The Fireman, will revel in “Nails,” a post-apocalyptic epic condensed into a novella. The weather is at its strangest here, as crystalline slivers rain devastatingly from the sky. This deadly downpour, though, doesn’t represent some latter-day Biblical plague, isn’t presented as meteorologically-themed magic realism. Instead, the tale posits an act of terrorism that is made to sound terrifyingly plausible. Hill has a grand time describing the bloody mayhem created by the unnatural hail, but for all the chaos that ensues, it is order that ultimately impresses most. The narrative is as tightly plotted as a murder mystery (which in a certain sense it is), where even the smallest and seemingly most incidental detail proves integral. Heart-pounding and heartbreaking, filled with stunning set pieces and touching character moments, “Nails” needs to be made into a feature film quicker than a wicked thunderstorm rolls in.

While its structure recalls the work of Stephen King, this book also testifies to what a unique and incredible talent Joe Hill is. The local forecast for the reader of Strange Weather: captivation, with unremitting entertainment.


It’s the night before Christmas, a prime time to post the following piece of flash fiction…



By Joe Nazare


Framed in one of the fifty-six windows of his home, Billy’s face is a mask of anxiousness. But I just snap the reins and fly on by.

The kid’s not even supposed to be up right now. Then again, if Billy Norton knew appropriate behavior, he wouldn’t have ended up bratlisted this year. So no special deliveries from me, although I’m sure his parents won’t leave him wanting. Month-old milk isn’t half as spoiled as he is.

The hilltop mansion in my wake, I proceed with my evening itinerary. Countless touchdowns are scheduled on the rooftop runways of more-deserving households within the town proper. The jolly prospect of morning unwrappings enraptures me…

Until Rudolph’s nose blinkers in alarm, and the entire team rears up as a dark shape swoops down on us. Initially, night and surprise camouflage the airspace invader; perhaps it’s the cacophonic drone that helps sharpen my vision, of what looks like some outsized, automated hornet.

I fight to steer clear of treetops and power lines as the mechanical harasser makes its buzzing loops. At one point the thing alights beside me, and then takes off with my brimming yet incredibly wieldy toy-sack pinched between its steel forelimbs.

The sudden absence of presents in my sky-pirated sleigh leaves me stunned. Finally, I manage to turn, and spot the machine beelining up the hillside. That’s when I realize who has masterminded tonight’s heist.

This Christmas, naughty Billy Norton will be getting nothing on his wish list—and everything on everyone else’s.


78/52 = 10

No, the above equation isn’t a math mistake, but an acknowledgment of the sheer perfection of writer/director Alexander O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene.

“78/52” refers to the number of shots/cuts employed in the filming of the iconic demise of Marion Crane in Psycho, and also serves as an early indication of the documentary’s precise approach. While viewers might already be aware of some of the fun facts (Hitchcock’s use of Hershey’s chocolate syrup to simulate blood; the faintest twitch of actress Janet Leigh’s eye as the camera pulls back from Marion’s sprawled corpse), they are sure to learn plenty of new details about the shower scene. This reviewer, for instance, never knew that pin-up model Marli Renfro stunt-doubled for Janet Leigh, that the knifing of a casaba melon and a slab of raw meat furnished the flesh-stabbing sound effect, or that the scene even had a direct impact on Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.

The actual footage from the shower scene is invoked throughout, but the documentary also features clips from a whole host of films as it establishes Psycho‘s immediate cinematic context and perennially pervasive influence. A couple of neat bonuses also come in the form of an opening reenactment of Marion’s rain-drenched arrival at the Bates Motel, and a dramatization of the shower scene as it plays out (slightly differently, but no less hauntingly) in Robert Bloch’s original novel.

The heart of 78/52, though, is found in its slew of talking heads. An impressive number of actors (including Janet Leigh’s own daughter Jamie Lee Curtis), directors, authors, and film critics not only testify to the personal impact of the shower scene but also provide extended, insightful analysis of what makes it so effective both visually and aurally. Their commentary brilliantly elucidates various aspects of Psycho, from the meticulous foreshadowing of the shower scene via both dialogue and imagery (e.g. the slashing of the windshield wipers prior to Marion’s ill-fated stop off) to the subtle but poignant symbolism (the specific painting that Norman removes from the wall of his office when peeping on Marion’s showering takes voyeurism as its very theme).

Ultimately, Philippe’s documentary convinces viewers what a true auteur Alfred Hitchcock was–the deliberate artistry Psycho‘s director brought to the filming of the shower scene (which took a whole week to shoot). At once finely detailed and highly entertaining, 78/52 offers an appropriate appreciation of one of the most seminal and memorable scenes in the history of film.

Dead Wrong

These days, the Internet is riddled with fanboy rants (“This show sucks!”) and media critics’ alarmist (and largely click-baiting) articles about the declining ratings of The Walking Dead. While I don’t have a lot of patience for such rhetoric, I will admit that AMC’s hit zombie series has gone into decline. Rather than just take potshots, though, I would like to consider why the show has gotten off track. I offer the following half-dozen reasons:

  • The ensemble has gotten too numerable. As TWD plays out its “All Out War” storyline this season, the show finds itself juggling too many characters (in too many different locales). Major figures end up being cast aside for weeks on end. When they do reappear, they are prone to unconvincing speechifying (about topics of suddenly vital personal import) or stupid decisions that land them in peril (e.g. Aaron and Enid’s ill-advised excursion to recruit Oceanside–the very group of women that has had their weapons previously stolen by Rick’s forces). In seasons past, TWD has thrived in its depiction of the moment-to-moment struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world; this season, it seems more preoccupied in setting up its various characters for Dramatic Moments.
  • This “All Out War” is a little too Tolkienesque for this writer’s comfort. TWD is striving too hard for epic grandeur with its collision of battling factions (the gravitas of King Ezekial’s arc is also reminiscent of Theoden’s withdrawn moping in The Two Towers). Accordingly, an opportunity for grim and gritty realism–the inglorious gore of warfare–has been missed.
  • Negan’s the reason. Even those who find his dialogue tiresome and juvenile cannot deny that Jeffrey Dean Morgan gives a commanding performance as the smiley sociopath. But the problem is, Negan is so colorful, he ends up overshadowing the other characters and making them appear drab by comparison. At the same time, it’s hard to get too invested in Negan, as the audience knows this archvillain is destined to be defeated.
  • The Trash (People) buildup is a mounting problem. These refugees from a bad 80’s sci-fi movie are jarringly out of place in the world of TWD. Their existence is nonsensical, from their strange speech patterns (as ridiculous as King Ezekiel might come across at times, at least there is a rationale for his affected rhetoric) to the head-scratching choice to live in junkyard squalor. To its credit, TWD is always trying to push the envelope of originality, but the show arguably has gone too far with this tribe of exotic squatters.
  • TWD has gotten carried away with a modernist storytelling approach, in which the timeline is fragmented and the narrative backtracks and overlaps. At best, this causes a loss of immediacy; at worst (as seems to be the case this season) it results in viewer confusion and an overall disjointed feel to the proceedings. The show might be best served by following a more linear trajectory, and flashing back selectively for special episodes (such as Season 6’s “Here’s Not Here”).
  • Lastly, in the midst of “All Out War,” TWD seems to have forgotten about its eponymous monsters. In the mid-season finale, I counted a single walker shambling around (perhaps the undead were downplayed throughout to make Carl’s closing reveal that much more shocking). Some of the best aspects of the war narrative thus far were the siege tactics Rick & company employed to surround the Sanctuary with walkers; alas, even that came to an abrupt (and thus far off-screen) end. TWD would be wise to remember that its rotten populace serves as more than mere background noise or hand-cannon fodder.

In all honesty, I still find TWD to be an enjoyable show, and am sure to tune in weekly. Still, I cannot deny the recent decline in overall quality. Hopefully, things can turn around again, and the current stumble doesn’t lead to an all-out sprawl.

The Dark Rites of Assent: The Town Meeting Goes Gothic in Stephen King’s Storm of the Century

In my last post, I focused on Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex, a novel that is undoubtedly indebted to the work of Stephen King (not coincidentally, Hex‘s main character is named Steve). The strongest echoes are of King’s Pet Sematary, but the town-meeting scenes bring to mind Storm of the CenturyThinking back on that King-scripted miniseries has led me to re-post the following piece (from my old Macabre Republic blog). It is the text of a paper I gave years back at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts in Ft. Lauderdale. 


The Dark Rites of Assent: The Town Meeting Goes Gothic in Stephen King’s Storm of the Century

Meandering through four hours of melodrama and not-so-special effects, the 1999 miniseries developed from Stephen King’s teleplay Storm of the Century hardly gets off to a compelling start. The arrival of the evil Linoge as Maine’s Little Tall Island is battered by a massive winter storm seems but a tedious rehash of the Randall Flagg plotline in The Stand: a supernatural antagonist manifests just as disaster threatens the breakdown of social order. Linoge’s endlessly reiterated demand in Storm of the Century–“Give me what I want, and I’ll go away”–creates perhaps less a sense of suspense than of irritation and impatience. The faithful viewer (the telematic analogue of King’s Constant Reader) is almost tempted to hold up the TV remote like Linoge’s cane and intone, “Give me what I want, or I’ll go away.”

On its third and final night, though, the miniseries takes a gripping turn. Linoge finally reveals the motivation behind his menacing: the sinister sorcerer wants Little Tall to hand over one of the town’s children to him, a boy or a girl whom Linoge subsequently will raise in his own image. At first, King might seem to have fallen back on familiar territory once again, considering that the parental anxiety over child welfare forms a leitmotif in the author’s works. But what proves particularly striking in this case is the moral dilemma Linoge creates (he threatens to kill all the children and all the parents if Little Tall does not give him what he wants) and the sociopolitical forum Linoge has Little Tall adopt when making its torturous decision: a good old-fashioned New England town meeting.

In his introduction to the published teleplay version of Storm of the Century, King attests that the Little Tall setting does not merely offer a convenient atmosphere of claustrophobia as the island is cut off from the mainland by the snowstorm and forced to fall back on its own resources: “The final impetus was provided by the realization that if I set my story on Little Tall Island, I had a chance to say something interesting and provocative about the very nature of community…because there is no community in America as tightly knit as the island communities off the coast of Maine. The people in them are bound together by situation, tradition, common interests, common religious practices.”  King’s climactic town meeting thus might be viewed in light of Sacvan Bercovitch’s critique (in his 1993 study, The Rites of Assent) of the rhetoric and rituals of American consensus. These “strategies of symbolic cohesion” inform the American Gothicism of Storm of the Century: “Is the result of pulling together always the common good?” King wonders in the introduction. “Does the idea of ‘community’ always warm the cockles of the heart, or does it on occasion chill the blood?” When King broaches the subject of communal formation and revitalization in Storm of the Century, he affords himself the opportunity to say something interesting and provocative about the poetics and politics of the horror genre itself.

Continue reading

Mob Scene: Hex

In a recent post, I covered various instances of mob scenes in literature, film and television. That entire list, however, is outnumbered by the number of examples of angry-villager activity found in Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s extraordinary novel Hex.

Heuvelt’s story originates in an act of awful Othering–the persecution of an accused witch. In 1664, Katherine van Wyler is forced (upon threat at having her daughter killed) to murder the son she is believed to have resurrected from the dead. Katherine is then forced to hang herself, but her ignominious death will make life miserable for people for centuries thereafter. The witch continues to haunt the town of Black Spring with her posthumous presence, teleporting all over the place–sometimes right into residents’ bedrooms, where she might loom unnervingly for days. An early attempt (by a group of church elders) to curtail Katherine’s menace by wrapping her body in chains and sewing her eyes and mouth shut hasn’t done much improve Black Spring’s cursed condition. Any resident who lingers outside town borders for too long plummets into the blackest pit of despair and is plagued by a mounting desire to commit suicide. Within Black Spring, the townspeople dare not try to attack Katherine, who emits a “freak energy when she’s under great physical or emotional distress” that causes innocent citizens in the vicinity to drop dead. Worse still, the people of Black Spring have to work unceasingly to conceal Katherine’s existence from the world at large, for fear of an influx of curious Outsiders and an incautious snipping of the witch’s stitches. The dread is that if Katherine’s evil eye is free to wander, and if her lips are able to articulate spells, the entire populace will die. This unrelenting fear causes Black Spring to shackle itself with iron laws:

The only thing that made the situation in Black Spring manageable–survivable, as some claimed–was that Black Spring was an indoctrinated commune. The townsfolk lived according to strict rules because they believed in those rules and adopted them without question. Children took in the commandments of the Emergency Decree with their mothers’ milk: Thou shalt not associate with the witch. Thou shalt not say a word about her to people on the outside. Thou shalt comply with the visitor regulation. And the mortal sin: Thou shalt, never, under any circumstances, open the witch’s eyes. These were rules prompted by fear, and Steve knew that fear invariably led to violence. He’d seen plenty of blank, pale little faces with black-and-blue patches and swollen lips on the playground of Black Rock Elementary in earlier years, faces of children who had spilled the beans with friends or cousins from out of town and had been beaten until they were fully reprogrammed according to their parents’ example.

The perennial pressure of dealing with a “paranormal time bomb” has doubtless taken a toll on the town, and their are plenty of early indications of Black Spring’s civic instability and penchant for harsh intolerance. Back in 1932, when a group of laid-off tree-farm workers threatened to blow the whistle about Katherine unless they were awarded new employment, the “town took a vote to set an example for other blackmailers. They were publicly flogged and killed by firing squared in the town square.” The town’s annual Halloween celebration includes a Wicker Woman burning and mock tests in which a declared young “witch” is “chased around by a group of pitchfork brandishing actors form Black Spring dressed in seventeenth century rags.” More seriously, when Arthur Roth (a mentally unstable resident who was imprisoned for talking about exposing Katherine) ends up beaten to death, Black Spring votes to get rid of the dead body by burying it anonymously. One citizen, Pete VanderMeer,  vehemently opposes the idea: “Come on, people, we’re not barbarians, are we? If we go down that road, we’re one step away from a lynch mob.”

That step appears even closer to being taken in a subsequent town meeting, in which a group of Black Spring teens who threw stones at Katherine are charged with brazen violation of the Emergency Decree. Outraged citizens in attendance act “like a rioting street mob,” shouting out impetuous suggestions such as “Let’s throw stones at ’em till they’re dead!” The teens are spared that fate, but hardly get off easy, being sentenced to lashes by a cat-o’-nine-tails in a public ceremony in the town square. “The impulse to point the finger, to assign a scapegoat,” which has marked the town from the very beginning here gives rise to a sadistic scene born of “collective madness.”

From here, the novel spirals toward a literally-riotous climax, as an orgy of irrational violence erupts after the witch’s eyes are unsealed. Armed with “kitchen knives, hammers, baseball bats, and guns” the fear-stricken citizens of Black Spring proceed to raise hell and raze buildings. I won’t go into further (spoiling) detail here, but will just mention that one of the book’s main characters is subjected to a spectacularly gruesome lynching.

This English-language translation/revision of Heuvelt’s novel, which transplants the setting from a small Dutch village to a town in New York’s Hudson Valley, proves an exemplary work of American Gothic fiction. The book boldly rewrites American history, positing that West Point was actually established to help keep the supernatural situation in nearby Black Spring under cover. Heuvelt also conflates historical eras, censuring Black Spring’s “puritanical soul” as the town is “catapulted back into the seventeenth century.” Hex makes for one horrific read, not just because of its spooky witch figure, but because of its demonstration of how quickly modern civilization can revert to savagery.

The Allure of Lore

Aaron Mahnke’s popular podcast Lore has grown into a multimedia phenomenon, recently expanding into a book series and a six-episode anthology series streaming on Amazon Prime. It is this televisual incarnation that I would like to briefly address here, focusing on its various attractions.

What do viewers get beyond the merely auditory experience of the podcast? For starters, there is some incredibly creepy animation on display (both in the show’s title sequence and within the episodes themselves), presenting unconventional imagery worthy of Charles Addams, Edward Gorey, or Tim Burton. Interspersed photos and video clips meanwhile add an arresting realism to the proceedings, providing glimpses of crime scenes or outre events (e.g. the radio-broadcast attempt to contact Harry Houdini via seance).

The episodes’ most distinctive feature, though, is their use of dramatic reenactments. These creations have all the haunting atmosphere, jolting scares, and production value of a full-length horror film. Fans of Magic or Annabelle are sure to squirm delightfully when watching the story of Key West’s legendary malevolent doll Robert (a figure who makes Chucky look like Strawberry Shortcake).

The dramatizations are also expertly paced, as they build to moments of heightened suspense and then cut away to the narrating Mahnke’s insightful commentary or segue into interpolated coverage of related topics/stories. One thing thankfully missing here, it should be noted, is the podcast’s breakaway to commercials, with Mahnke spending considerable time hawking sponsored products.

The Amazon series might not be well-suited for binge watching; smaller, periodic bites are apt to be relished most. A pattern does emerge, though, when the episodes are screened in close sequence. Again and again, we witness people, driven by desperation or derangement, commit disturbing acts against their closest and most beloved kin. While Lore (which deals in witches and werewolves, revenants and changelings) more than slakes viewers’ thirst for knowledge of the macabre and offbeat, it also serves to remind us that the most frightening monsters are those that hide within the human psyche.


Here’s a drabble for travelers of the Macabre Republic…



By Joe Nazare


Seven cities, six days, zero deals sealed. Red-eye, white-knuckle flight into Newark in the middle of an electrical storm. Futile vigil held at the misnomered Baggage Claim carousel. A livery cab driver who seemed to have learned his craft from Mad Max.

Owen crisscrossed an inner interstate of exhaustion and exasperation as the town car dropped him off curbside at last. His sore eyes fixed on the white picket fence, the immaculately-landscaped front yard, the familiar façade of his Dutch Colonial home, and—framed in the upstairs window—the silhouetted figure overlooking his return.

The only problem: Owen lived alone.