“Haunted Attraction”

From my 2014 collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season


Haunted Attraction

By Joe Nazare


He brings neither date nor friend, walks Rancid Mansion alone
Remains mute throughout, emits not one whimper or groan

Isn’t phased when menaced by hammy actors in macabre disguise
Fails to flinch when seeming statues lurch in animatronic surprise

Doesn’t grimace at the various simulations of butcher shop grue
Has no gag reflex when he scents the hag’s cauldron of noisome stew

Doesn’t panic when the walls of the black labyrinth squeeze coffin tight
Merely grins at the scene of the lupine choir, musical children of the night

Isn’t chilled by strategic breezes, cobweb snares don’t make his skin crawl
Upon exiting the exhibit he doesn’t appear delightfully frightened at all

But when he wings himself home before sunrise strikes him full dead
Exciting new decorating ideas swirl within the crypt of his centuries-old head


October Stories: Ranking the Ten “Tales of Halloween”

Tales of Halloween is a Halloween anthology film that tends to be overshadowed by its 2007 forerunner (and clear influencer), Trick ‘R Treat. This 2015 effort, though, boasts a broad array of talent (both onscreen and behind the camera) and features plenty of finely-executed scenes of horror and black comedy. Like any Halloween haul, the narrative pieces aren’t uniformly satisfying, but they make for a rewarding experience overall. Here’s my quick ranking of the ten (loosely connected) segments comprising the film:


10. “The Weak and the Wicked” (Segment #4, directed by Paul Solet)

A limp tale of comeuppance, in which a trio of terrorizing punks are dispatched by the summoned “Demon of All Hallows Eve.” For all their acts of arson and trick-or-treater tormenting, these street toughs are hard to take seriously when they traverse the neighborhood turf on their bicycles.


9. “Ding Dong” (Segment #6, directed by Lucky McKee)

The always stellar Pollyanna McIntosh shines as a frustrated, unpregnant wife/seething red witch-demon. But the “Hansel and Gretel” overlay feels a bit forced here, and I’m admittedly confused by the abrupt “I’m melting” ending.


8. “Trick” (Segment #3, directed by Adam Gierasch)

The Children of the Corn appear to have migrated to Haddonfield, as a group of trick or treaters engage in home invasion and the brutal murder of adult residents. While it ultimately subverts its doorstep-delinquents trope, this segment (which presents images of gruesome child torture) proves too unsavory to really enjoy.


7. “The Ransom of Rusty Rex” (Segment #9, directed by Ryan Schifrin)

A couple of hapless kidnappers get much more than they bargained for when they snatch the titular trick or treater (played by the late, great character actor Ben Woolf). Terrific horrific hijinks ensue, but the effectiveness of the segment is mitigated by the fact that its central, monster-under-the-kid’s-mask device gets utilized earlier in the film.


6. “Friday the 31st” (Segment #8, directed by Mike Mendez)

An inspired reversal of the “masked slasher chasing the final girl” motif. Evil Dead-levels of gonzo gore are achieved here, but are undercut somewhat by the jarring inclusion of that cutesy Claymation alien.


5. “This Means War” (Segment #7, directed by Andrew Kasch and John Skipp)

This combative narrative gives new meaning to keeping up with the neighbors. A pair of yard haunters (one a nerdy suburbanite, the other a shock rocker) with contrasting sensibilities take their decorating rivalry to desecrating, deadly, yet highly entertaining extremes.


4. “Sweet Tooth” (Segment #1, directed by Dave Parker)

A local urban legend concerning a candy-ravenous slayer turns out to be all too real. The plot twist is hardly unexpected but can be appreciated nonetheless, as Sweet Tooth has some impressively visceral kills. And bonus points here for the segment’s Big Ass Spider! (Easter) eggs.


3. “Bad Seed” (Segment #10, directed by Neil Marshall)

How could any self-respecting gorehound not like a tale that starts off with a jack-o’-lantern coming to carnivorous life (like some gourd version of Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors) and decapitating its carver? Yes, the police procedural elements are painfully corny, but the segment pays off with a wonderful final image of Halloween sublime.


2. “Grim Grinning Ghost” (Segment #5, directed by Axelle Carolyn)

This brief but memorable tale (studded with horror genre luminaries such as Lin Shaye, Barbara Crampton, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon) baits the hook with a Halloween party spook story designed to get a frightened rise out of a skittish young woman. The heroine’s subsequent journey home is steeped in creepy atmosphere, but the segment earns its high ranking from its concluding, perfectly-revealed scare.


1. “The Night Billy Raised Hell” (Segment #2, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman)

For unabashed Halloween mischief, this witty story (featuring a delightfully dark Barry Bostwick) is unparalleled. The extended pranking montage packs a lot of clever devilishness into a short space, the climactic twist is wicked good, and the implications of the segment’s conclusion are supremely sinister.


Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#1

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]


1. “Spyder” (1994)

Hollywood history is given a fantastic rewrite in this Partridge vehicle featuring thinly-veiled versions of James Dean and Maila “Vampira” Nurmi (companions who were romantically linked in real life). A large part of the fun here involves catching the various allusions–and appreciating the deviations. The character of Layla (aka “Rigormortia”) isn’t just some cult figure vamping up a persona; she actually possesses occult powers (something the tabloid media irresponsibly accused Nurmi of following Dean’s tragic death). Layla’s black talents include turbo-charging the titular sports car by adding drops of her blood to its carburetor, and resurrecting a dead vintner for a ritual that turns a bottle of wine into a charmed potion. There’s also a memorably atmospheric set piece in which Layla manifests in the fog and hangs wraith-like outside the glass wall of a teetering, Hollywood hilltop home. Layla is a behind-the-scenes Tinseltown manipulator, and she works to give the narrator’s fledgling acting career a boost, but he soon grows leery of her influence. At the same time, he can’t help but lust after the “gorgeous corpsette,” and a complex power struggle unfolds between the two (building to a climax that offers a terrific twist on James Dean’s biography). “Spyder” is not only stocked with dark thrills, but also shines literarily (the narrator references Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon throughout, and waxes philosophical about desire and loss and “the power of legend”). With its unbelievably clever premise, and convincing mix of the mid-20th-Century Hollywood milieu and Monster Culture (alluringly packaged by TV’s first horror hostess), this horror-noir masterpiece lands the top spot on the October countdown of Norman Partridge’s Top 31 Works of Short Fiction.


History Lessons: “Holiday Horror” (Episode 3.5)

Let’s celebrate the wise and witty words spoken on the pre-Halloween episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror


Eli Roth: Holidays are usually the time we get together with our families–for better or for worse. But even if you get along with your relatives, holidays can be stressful. Passive-aggressive behavior, forced cheerfulness, heavy drinking: they’re typical parts of the holiday experience. All that tension needs to be released. Enter the holiday horror film, bringing our wildest homicidal horror fantasies to life.


Ryan Turek: What made the first film scary, what made Michael Myers scary–you didn’t know who he was. All you knew is he killed his sister; you didn’t know why. You know, let’s go back [in 2018’s Halloween] to that pure dread that came with Halloween [1978], and let’s go back to that singular strong final girl that took him on, and let’s see what she’s like forty years later, and she’s, you know, she’s–she’s kinda messed up.


Nathaniel Thompson: And [Black Christmas] is one of the first great examples of the subjective camera in a slasher movie. But it’s something that critics jumped on later on; in Friday the 13th they really attacked it, because they’re saying “Oh, it’s putting you in the killer’s point of view, it’s attacking women, and it’s misogynist.” No, at least in the beginning, that’s not the point. The point is, you never see the face–that’s what’s so scary. You have no idea what this guy looks like; all you see is his eye.


Heidi Honeycutt: Because her boyfriend was not the killer, and the cops are wrong, and they didn’t get him, and now she’s probably going to die because of their incompetence. And [Black Christmas] is written that way deliberately to infuriate us. We’re supposed to see how society leaves this woman vulnerable.


Quentin Tarantino: People who don’t understand the concept of slasher movies, to them it’s all violent porno as far as they’re concerned, because they just don’t get it. And most of the films that they made a big deal about, I wish they were closer to what they think they were. I wish they were that strong. [But] Silent Night, Deadly Night is fucked up for a horror film fan.


Michael Dougherty[Krampus] is a very personal statement for myself, just how hard it is to maintain optimism and a belief in the goodness of human beings when you’re confronted with the opposite every time you wake up in the morning and turn on the news.


Christopher Landon: These woman [in Mother’s Day] actively said, “We’re gonna go back, and we’re gonna hunt these people down, and we’re gonna kill them and get revenge for what they did to our friend.” That was badass. There was a certain feminist element to it that I really appreciate, that was unusual for a film of that time.


Jessica Rothe: I love the message that [Happy Death Day] has when it comes to grief and loss, and how you have to, kind of, confront it and really go through it, and spend some real time with that loss and not run away from it, because I think Tree’s been running for a really, really long time.


Joe Hill: Good horror is all about uncomfortable juxtapositions. It’s about taking something like Christmas, something we love and find comforting, and then ruining it for everyone forever. It is in the nature of horror fiction, horror cinema, to be a little bit like punk rock. If you fail to piss anyone off, you’re probably doing it wrong!


Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#2

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]


2. “The Iron Dead” (2010)

Imagine if Dashiell Hammett wrote for Weird Tales rather than Black Mask, and you’ll have a good sense of the sensibility of this retro-pulp novella. In middle-of-nowhere Montana, a bootlegging run is interrupted by a “hell machine”–a vampiric cyborg hybrid of flesh and blood and metal and wire. This Satan-serving monstrosity seeks not just sustenance but also fresh recruits for its nightmare army: it builds new soldiers out of “scavenged engine parts and organs harvested from the bodies of murdered men and women.” With such a diabolical scheme unfolding, it’s fortunate that a wandering hero is drawn to the carnage; the drifter Chaney has a mechanical hand, a black satchel full of weapons, and a score to settle. The plot plays out like Night of the Iron Dead, as gangsters, lawmen, and Chaney hole up in a jailhouse under siege from the hell machine’s minions. Escaping, the unlikely band of confederates advance on the hell machine’s workshop of infernal creation (a cemetery-adjacent gas station/machine shop) during a driving rainstorm. A harrowing adventure narrative on overdrive, featuring an extensive cast of human heroes and villains and an assortment of exotic monsters that make Clive Barker’s Cenobites look like a bunch of Tinker Toys, “The Iron Dead” is surely cinematic in scope. No one does hard-boiled horror better than Partridge, and this knockout novella forms his premiere example of such genre mash-up.


Poe Abodes

AP Photo/File; Stefano Giovannini

Ahh, the macabre is in the air! One of my favorite parts of the Halloween season (other than the dark, autumnal charm of the High Holiday itself) is the appearance of articles such as this. Allison Hope’s New York Post piece, “Inside Edgar Allan Poe’s Hellish–and Relatable–NYC Housing Hunt,” is an unexpected treat that showed up in my phone’s feed this evening. It’s a terrific read, offering a quick journalistic tour of Poe’s Gotham living spaces and Gothic literary endeavors. Poe fans, and October lovers, are sure to enjoy Hope’s work here.


Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#3

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]


3. “The Jack o’ Lantern: A Dark Harvest Tale” (2010)

This publication was a tremendous treat for Partridge fans, as the tale returned to the world of the author’s instant-classic Halloween novel Dark Harvest. The narrative, set a generation before the events of the novel, functions as a prequel, but the ever-inventive Partridge doesn’t just serve up a mere rehash. Yes, it’s a Halloween night, and another angry mob of teenage boys wielding pitchforks, ballbats, and machetes is attempting to halt the advance of the so-called “scarecrow monster,” the October Boy. But the jack o’ lantern of the title doesn’t refer to Ol’ Hacksaw Face’s grisly gourd, and there is violent mayhem afoot unrelated to the annual Run through the midwestern town. While the narrative here is self-contained, it also connects perfectly with Dark Harvest, forming the origin story for one of the novel’s main characters. “The Jack o’ Lantern,” with its shift to a prior year’s Halloween ritual, also demonstrates that there is room for further expansion of the Dark Harvest universe. Imagine a shared-world anthology (similar to what Lords of the Razor did for Joe R. Lansdale’s legendary character, the God of the Razor) featuring different Runs of the October Boy throughout the town’s shady history. Or better yet: how about a collaboration between Lansdale and Partridge in which the God of the Razor and Sawtooth Jack face off against one another? Now that would be one crackling yarn…


Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#4

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]


4. “The Big Man” (2000; expanded 2010)

Partridge’s fondness for Atomic Age genre films is writ large here, as bomb testing in the Southwestern desert produces an array of giant, radiated monsters: spiders, scorpions, bats, and one forty-foot-tall man. The giant of the title sports “teeth like polished marble tombstones” and drinks beer from kegs using “a car bumper for a can opener”; when injured, he leaves “huge red blood droplets that had dried like Navajo sand-paintings on the red earth.” This playing with scale, though, isn’t in the interest of echoing the fantastic satire of Swift or Rabelais, or even the suspenseful thrills of 50’s drive-in fare. The narrative, which reads like a dark, (Tim) Burtonesque fairy tale, is concerned most with its viewpoint character: a young boy physically and verbally abused by his foster father, Mr. Harstead (whose bar room the boy sweeps up, and sleeps on its pool table at night). When Harstead attempts to capitalize on his grenade attack (by tracking down the grievously wounded behemoth and procuring a skull trophy), the boy ardently hopes that the giant will triumph over the wicked pseudo-parent. But in this tale, wishes don’t come facilely true (at least not quite like imagined), and actions prove more powerful than words. “The Big Man” has an oversized heart, and its emotional story beats make this Partridge’s most moving work of short fiction.