Mumm-bo Jumbo

“Signs of life in mummy exhibit in Mexico have experts worried for those who get close”

This is the eye-catching headline of Aspen Pflughoeft’s article published yesterday in the Miami Herald. When I happened upon the piece in my newsfeed today, I felt a jolt of excitement. The macabre bent of my imagination had me anticipating a report of an uncanny shift of position detected in one of the exhibit’s desiccated constituents. My interest only grew when I began reading the article and discovered that the traveling exhibit displayed the famed “Mummies of Guanajuato”–the same collection of preserved corpses immortalized by Ray Bradbury in his 1947 Dark Carnival story “The Next in Line” (later collected in The October Country).

To my disappointment, though, the article soon revealed the disconcerting “sign of life”: patches of fungus on one of the mummies, a growth spurt that could pose a biohazard to viewers (the exhibit’s arrangers downplay any safety concerns). Suddenly, Pflughoeft’s headline turned into an exacerbating case of click-baiting. But as HBO’s The Last of Us has shown, a thriving fungus can make for a quite frightful antagonist. And articles such as the one in the Miami Herald are just the sort of raw material that provides inspiration for the horror genre’s dark dreamers. Here’s hoping that there will be some new mummy tale of apocalyptic outbreak forthcoming in the near future, one forming a worthy successor to “The Next in Line.”

 

Slash and the City: Scream VI (Film Review)

It is certainly apropos that the newest entry in the Scream series is set in New York City. Much like the Big Apple, the film is loud, overcrowded, and hectic in its pacing.

Scream VI returns the self-designated “Core Four” from last year’s Richie-and-Amber-orchestrated slaughter. Sam (Melissa Barrera), Tara (Jenna Ortega), Chad (Mason Gooding), and Mindy (Jasmine Savoy Brown) have migrated cross-country to delve into East Coast college life, but remain as likable as ever. Both individually and collectively, the quartet conveys a mix of charisma, vulnerability, and badassery that proves quite engaging (although Sam’s ongoing struggle with being the illegitimate daughter of O.G. Ghostface Billy Loomis is growing tiresome as a storyline). The Core Four carry the film, and the actors’ performances are the only thing that saves Scream VI from being an absolute disaster.

Fans should be forewarned, though: the film is unabashedly violent, and doesn’t hesitate to punish victims, villains, and protagonists alike. Nobody emerges unscathed here–and that is part of the problem. [Mild spoiler] Brutalizing the heroes and subjecting them to gruesome knifings by Ghostface yet having them ultimately survive feels manipulative, a cheat. The unlikely resiliency of the Dewey Riley character in previous Screams has now expanded into a near cliché, one that results in diminishing returns in terms of audience investment in the horror.

Unfortunately, directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett substitute savagery for subtlety and artistry (the latter seems limited here to the crafting of graphic kills). Scream VI eschews the series’ trademark humor, and sly meta-commentary on the horror genre gets minimalized. The mystery element is paltry, with clues dropped clunkily into the proceedings. For me (the same will be the case for many a viewer, I suspect), the identity of Ghostface was obvious very early on.

The film does feature a thrilling set piece in which the heroes desperately attempt to evade Ghostface by climbing across a ladder propped between the high windows of adjacent apartment buildings. A stabbing scene on a packed subway car is less effective, unstriking in its unoriginality (the costumed crowd doesn’t recognize attempted homicide in its midst because its Halloween!). Overall, the film fails to make compelling use of its new, NYC setting. In its focus on a secret, Ghostface-murderabilia-stocked shrine staged in an abandoned movie palace, the film approaches shark-jumping levels of hokeyness. Gale Weathers’s discovery, shortly after the killings begin, of this allegedly hidden lair emblematizes the film’s shortcomings. Gale’s offscreen discovery is less the product of good investigative journalism (as she claims) than bad scriptwriting–a facile and unconvincing attempt to propel the plot forward. In every sense, Scream VI feels like a rush job.

Safe to say, reckless escalation won’t sit well with slasher purists. When Ghostface takes up a pump action shotgun and attacks Sam and Tara in a local bodega (blowing away several innocent bystanders in the process), he threatens to push the film out of the horror genre and into the territory of gritty crime drama; imagine a Death Wish reboot directed by S. Craig Zahler.

One last critique. The “Suddenly Psycho” climax has always been one of the diciest aspects of the series. Billy and Stu pulled off the self-reveal admirably in the original, and Richie and Amber provided a fun revisiting of such craziness in last year’s Scream, but more often than not the batshit switch-flip has made for a jarring development. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that Scream VI takes all this to the nth degree. After this, such hackneyed scene of hammy theatrics really needs to be left on the cutting room floor when the inevitable sequel is lensed.

With its sprawling urban mise-en-scène and over-the-top violence, Scream VI lacks intimacy, charm. For all the self-awareness (as expressed by the characters) of being caught in a “franchise” now, the film–a brazen deviation from the Craven/Williamson formula–consistently forgets what has made the series great over the past quarter century. A disappointing follow-up to last year’s clever and thrilling requel, this latest offering ranks alongside Scream 3 as the franchise’s lamest installment.

 

Slash and Burn: “The Final Girl’s Daughter”

Thanks to writers such as Grady Hendrix, Adam Cesare, Hailey Piper, and Stephen Graham Jones, slasher fiction has assumed a prominent position within the horror genre over the past few years. Ray Cluley’s short story “The Final Girl’s Daughter” (collected in All That’s Lost, and also published in the current issue of The Dark) makes for another stellar addition to the fictional trend.

Despite its title, the story does not unfold as a typical slasher sequel, a next-generation redux of grisly mayhem. Instead, Cluley focuses on the continuing fallout of a past cycle of violence. The main characters, Richard and Sally, are a pair of ex-lovers physically scarred and mentally traumatized by their bloody run-in years earlier with a scythe-wielding psycho called Scarecrow Joe. Both of the survivors continue to struggle with guilt and grief, with the ghosts of memory that linger on long after that fateful night of carnage. While Golden Age slasher flicks treated their young cast as so much killer-fodder, Cluley’s deftly skewed narrative is steeped in what its cinematic predecessors glaringly lacked: convincing characterization.

With its Bible-Belt setting and rural slasher (who makes wicked use of corn cobs and crow feathers), the story conveys a strong American gothic vibe. The dark legacy of the past (yet unending) nightmare at the killer’s Chainsaw-esque farmhouse is depicted in appropriate terms: “That reaping man had broken more than [Richard’s] bones and teeth, and what he’d done to Richard’s friends had scraped him hollow. Bled him of all that was good and left him empty as a shucked husk.” “The Final Girl’s Daughter” eschews the stalk-and-slash action of subgenre convention, but Cluley’s quietly burning story nonetheless provides a quite moving and haunting reading experience.

 

Quoting Ghostface

The Scream franchise’s slasher Ghostface offers the best of both worlds: the menace of mute brutes such as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, and the hellish articulateness of a Freddy Krueger. Ghostface is at his/her taunting, threatening, terrorizing best when making cold calls to impending victims. In honor of tomorrow’s release of Scream VI, here are ten killer examples (two from each of the first five movies; leaving out the obvious, and ubiquitous, “What’s your favorite scary movie?”) of Ghostface’s macabre, snarky banter.

 

Scream (1996)

Casey: What do you want?
Ghostface: To see what your insides look like.

Sidney: So, who are you?
Ghostface: The question isn’t “Who am I?” The question is “Where am I?”

 

Scream 2 (1997)

Cici: Why do you always answer a question with a question?
Ghostface: I’m inquisitive.
Cici: Yeah, and I’m impatient. Look, do you want to leave a message for someone?
Ghostface: Do you want to die tonight, Cici?

Randy [answering Gale’s phone]: Gale’s not here!–
Ghostface: I’m not interrupting anything, am I? You three look deep in thought. Have you ever felt a knife cut through human flesh and scrape the bone beneath?

 

Scream 3 (2000)

Roman: It’s not just a new script. It’s a new movie.
Sarah: What? What movie?
Roman: My movie.
[Roman’s voice suddenly changes]
Ghostface:  And it’s called Sarah Gets Skewered Like a Fucking Pig. Still in character, Sarah?

Sidney: How do I know their voices are–
Ghostface: Are real? How do you know you’re not hearing things? How do you know I’m not someone in your head? Somewhere, you know. [Dewey and gale yelling in background]. Or do you?

 

Scream 4 (2011)

Sidney: This isn’t a fucking movie!
Ghostface: Spare me the lecture. You’ve done very well by all this bloodshed, haven’t you? Well, how about the town you left behind? I’ve got plans for you. I’m gonna slit your eyelids in half so you don’t blink when I stab you in the face. You’ll die when I want you to, Sidney. Not a moment before. Until then, you’re going to suffer.

Rebecca: I’m handling Miss Prescott’s calls and appearances. May I take a message?
Ghostface: You are the message.

 

Scream (2022)

Ghostface: Who played the dumb bitch at the beginning of Stab 1 who answers the door and gets carved up by the killer?
Tara: Fuck you.
Ghostface: Is that the answer you’re going with?

Ghostface: Really? You can’t save your own sister? All you have to day is say, “Kill Richie.”
Sam: Tara! Don’t hurt her! Please! Please! Please! I’m begging you!
Ghostface: Or say, “Kill Tara.” And I’ll make sure to hit all the organs I missed last time.

 

A Stoker for Poker Face?

With its central thematic concern with death and duplicity, the hit Peacock series Poker Face consistently conveys an American Gothic vibe. Today’s episode release, “The Orpheus Syndrome,” though, steers the narrative straight into horror-genre territory.

This week, protagonist Charlie Cale’s cross-country odyssey lands her in a “house of horrors”: her latest gig has her assisting a filmmaker/special fx monster maven. Arthur Lipton (played by the disheveled-looking, gravelly-voiced Nick Nolte, who could be Charlie’s long lost uncle) toils in a workshop stocked with macabre props, including impressive renderings of Cerberus and Medusa. His handiwork extends to the fabrication of an uncanny maquette of his dead friend Max (veteran actor Tim Russ, who, to be perfectly honest, is pretty creepy looking in real life). The reclusive Arthur is also hard at work on the titular stop-motion film, which Charlie recognizes as an artistic attempt at atonement (since Arthur blames himself for the death of an actress during the filming of a never-completed, Black-Lagoon-evoking monster movie he was directing three decades earlier).

An elderly femme fatale (Cherry Jones) goes to diabolical lengths to conceal the truth of that tragic on-set mishap. But she is haunted by the sins of her past, and in a climax strikingly reminiscent of a Poe tale, the criminal mastermind crumbles under the strain of her own guilt. Her near triumph morphs into spectacular ruination, as she perceives a horrorshow unfolding during a memorial service. The scene plays out like a carnival dark ride, effectively arranging a rapid-fire sequence of eerie thrills.

Finely crafted and featuring terrific performances (starting with star Natasha Lyonne), Poker Face is certain to be an Emmy and Golden Globe darling. But with any more horror-heavy episodes such as “The Orpheus Syndrome,” the show might also find itself deservedly listed on a Stoker ballot next award season.

 

Dean Koontz Interview (This Is Horror Podcast 481)

Devoted followers (such as myself) of the This Is Horror podcast know that co-host Michael David Wilson always begins the interview by asking about any lessons the guest learned in early life. Never has that prompt elicited more interesting response than during the recent interview conducted with Dean Koontz. The bestselling author is quite open in recounting the trials of his childhood: growing up in a poor family dominated by his violent, alcoholic father. Koontz acknowledges the various ways his upbringing affected him as a person and shaped him as a writer.

As the interview progresses, Koontz furnishes insight into such areas as his academic record (his transformation from self-described “slacker” into notorious hard-worker) and his lifelong love for dogs. Wilson and cohost Bob Pastorella, who are authors themselves, both prove eager to hear their guest talk about the craft of fiction writing. Koontz also discusses his new novel The House at the End of the World (which in its concerns with the failures of the ruling class in the Western world sounds terribly timely).

I do wish that the hosts had probed Koontz more directly for his thoughts on horror (a genre from which the author has deliberately disassociated himself in the past), but otherwise this is a terrific interview. By no means is Koontz some Pynchonesque recluse, but he does not typically avail himself to such a platform or provide so much of his time (the interview is nearly 90 minutes long). I am happy that Koontz has chosen to do so here, though, because he cuts quite a likeable figure, humble and genuinely avuncular. The other clear takeaway from the podcast interview: at age 77, the prolific novelist shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

I’ve embedded the video of the podcast below. Other interview videos can be found on the This Is Horror YouTube channel, and there is also plenty of must-read material posted on the This is Horror website.

 

King (Story) Openings

My last post listed my selections of the top twenty opening lines in Stephen King’s novels/novellas. Tonight I am going to do the same for the author’s short stories:

 

Wharton moved slowly up the wide steps, hat in hand, craning his neck to get a better look at the Victorian monstrosity that his sister had died in.–“The Glass Floor” (1967)

The guy’s name was Snodgrass, and I could see him getting ready to do something crazy.–“Trucks” (1973)

After the guy was dead and the smell of his burning flesh was off the air, we all went back down to the beach.–“Night Surf” (1974)

Halston thought the old man in the wheelchair looked sick, terrified, and ready to die.–“The Cat From Hell” (1977)

The question is: Can he do it?–“The Woman in the Room” (1978)

When Hal Shelburn saw it, when his son Dennis pulled it out of a mouldering Ralston-Purina carton that had been pushed far back under one attic eve, such a feeling of horror and dismay rose in him that for one moment he thought he would scream.–“The Monkey” (1980)

“The Reach was wider in those days,” Stella Flanders told her great-grandchildren in the last summer of her life, the summer before she began to see ghosts.–“The Reach” (1981)

I want to tell you about the end of war, the degeneration of mankind, and the death of the Messiah–an epic story, deserving thousands of pages and a whole shelf of volumes, but you (if there are any “you” later on to read this) will have to settle for the freeze-dried version.–“The End of the Whole Mess” (1986)

I believe there was only one occasion upon which I actually solved a crime before my slightly fabulous friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.–“The Doctor’s Case” (1987)

Looking into the display case was like looking through a dirty pane of glass into the middle third of his boyhood, those years from seven to fourteen when he had been fascinated by stuff like this.–“Chattery Teeth” (1992)

Pearson tried to scream but shock robbed his voice and he was able to produce only a low, choked whuffling–the sound of a man moaning in his sleep.–“The Ten O’Clock People” (1993)

My friend L.T. hardly ever talks about how his wife disappeared, or how she’s probably dead, just another victim of the Axe Man, but he likes to tell the story of how she walked out on him.–“L.T. Theory of Pets” (1997)

It’s so dark that for awhile–just how long I don’t know–I think I’m still unconscious.–“Autopsy Room Four” (1997)

Want you to get one thing straight from the start: wasn’t nobody on earth didn’t like my pal, Johnnie Dillinger, except Melvin Purvis of the F.B.I.–“The Death of Jack Hamilton” (2001)

They rode west from the slaughter, through the painted desert, and did not stop until they were a hundred miles away.–“Throttle” (2009; with Joe Hill)

Streeter only saw the sign because he had to pull over and puke.–“Fair Extension” (2010)

As the Judge climbs into the kayak beneath a bright morning sky, a slow and clumsy process that takes him almost five minutes, he reflects that an old man’s body is nothing but a sack in which he carries aches and indignities.–“The Dune” (2011)

Wilson’s mother, not one of the world’s shiny happy people, had a saying: “When things go wrong, they keep going wrong until there’s tears.”–“That Bus Is Another World” (2014)

Dave Calhoun was helping Olga Glukhov construct the Eiffel Tower.–“Mister Yummy” (2015)

Billy Clewson died all at once, with nine of the ten other members of D Squad on April 8, 1974.–“Squad D” (2019)

 

 

King Openings

Open Culture’s recent post “Stephen King’s 20 Rules for Writers” recounts the renowned author’s discussion of the importance of a good opening line–that single (though not necessarily simple) first sentence that serves as an invitation to the reader and a doorway into the narrative for the writer. King’s comments sent me scurrying over to my bookshelves to reflect on the author’s best practice of such preaching. Here’s a list of what I found to be the top twenty opening lines in King’s novels/novellas:

 

Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.–The Shining (1977)

This is what happened.–The Mist (1980)

Once upon a time, not long ago, a monster came to the town of Castle Rock, Maine.–Cujo (1981)

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.–The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)

The most important things are the hardest things to say.–The Body (1982)

“Thinner,” the old Gypsy man with the rotting nose whispers to William Halleck as Halleck and his wife Heidi come out of the courthouse.–Thinner (1984)

The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.–IT (1986)

People’s lives–their real lives, as opposed to their simple physical existences–begin at different times.–The Dark Half (1989)

“You stole my story,” the man on the doorstep said.–Secret Window, Secret Garden (1990)

No one–least of all Dr. Lichfield–came right out and told Ralph Roberts that his wife was going to die, but there came a time when Ralph understood without needing to be told.–Insomnia (1994)

She sits in a corner, trying to draw air out of a room which seemed to have plenty just a few minutes ago and now seems to have none.–Rose Madder (1995)

“ASK ME A RIDDLE,” Blaine invited.–The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass (1997)

The world had teeth and it could bite you with them any time it wanted.–The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)

When someone dies, you think about the past.–Why We’re in Vietnam (1999)

Pere Don Callahan had once been a Catholic priest of a town, ‘Salem’s Lot had been its name, that no longer existed on any map.–The Dark Tower (2004)

To the public eye, the spouses of well-known writers are all but invisible, and no one knew it better than Lisey Landon.–Lisey’s Story (2006)

When Wesley Smith’s colleagues asked him–some with an eyebrow hoicked satirically–what he was doing with that gadget (they all called it a gadget), he told them he was experimenting with new technology.–UR (2009)

The one thing nobody asked in casual conversation, Darcy thought in the days after she found what she found in the garage, was this: How’s your marriage?A Good Marriage (2010)

It was an unmarked car, just some nondescript American sedan a few years old, but the blackwall tires and the three men inside gave it away for what it was.–The Outsider (2018)

The day Marty Anderson saw the billboard was just before the Internet finally went down for good.–The Life of Chuck (2020)

 

Speaking of King novels: his next one, Holly, has been officially announced. And the book description sounds like American Gothic nirvana:

Mere blocks from where Bonnie Dahl disappeared live Professors Rodney and Emily Harris. They are the picture of bourgeois respectability: married octogenarians, devoted to each other, and semi-retired lifelong academics. But they are harboring an unholy secret in their well-kept, book-lined home, one that may be related to Bonnie’s disappearance. And it will prove nearly impossible to discover what they are up to: they are savvy, they are patient, and they are ruthless.

Holly [Gibney] must summon all her formidable talents to outthink and outmaneuver the shockingly twisted professors in this chilling new masterwork from Stephen King.

Consider this Constant Reader hooked; I’m already counting the days until the September 2023 publication.

 

23 for ’23

Quot libros, quam breve tempus

 

My TBR pile is still towering with books from 2022, and is apt to remain stacked in the coming year. Here’s a list (unless otherwise noted, the description comes from the book’s dedicated Amazon page) of twenty-three new releases on my reader-radar for 2023:

 

1. How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix (Berkeley, 1/17/23)

When Louise finds out her parents have died, she dreads going home. She doesn’t want to leave her daughter with her ex and fly to Charleston. She doesn’t want to deal with her family home, stuffed to the rafters with the remnants of her father’s academic career and her mother’s lifelong obsession with puppets and dolls. She doesn’t want to learn how to live without the two people who knew and loved her best in the world.

Most of all, she doesn’t want to deal with her brother, Mark, who never left their hometown, gets fired from one job after another, and resents her success. Unfortunately, she’ll need his help to get the house ready for sale because it’ll take more than some new paint on the walls and clearing out a lifetime of memories to get this place on the market.

But some houses don’t want to be sold, and their home has other plans for both of them…

 

2. The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis (Knopf, 1/17/23)

Bret Easton Ellis’s masterful new novel is a story about the end of innocence, and the perilous passage from adolescence into adulthood, set in a vibrantly fictionalized Los Angeles in 1981 as a serial killer begins targeting teenagers throughout the city.

Seventeen-year-old Bret is a senior at the exclusive Buckley prep school when a new student arrives with a mysterious past. Robert Mallory is bright, handsome, charismatic, and shielding a secret from Bret and his friends even as he becomes a part of their tightly knit circle. Bret’s obsession with Mallory is equaled only by his increasingly unsettling preoccupation with the Trawler, a serial killer on the loose who seems to be drawing ever closer to Bret and his friends, taunting them—and Bret in particular—with grotesque threats and horrific, sharply local acts of violence. The coincidences are uncanny, but they are also filtered through the imagination of a teenager whose gifts for constructing narrative from the filaments of his own life are about to make him one of the most explosive literary sensations of his generation. Can he trust his friends—or his own mind—to make sense of the danger they appear to be in? Thwarted by the world and by his own innate desires, buffeted by unhealthy fixations, he spirals into paranoia and isolation as the relationship between the Trawler and Robert Mallory hurtles inexorably toward a collision.

Set against the intensely vivid and nostalgic backdrop of pre-Less Than Zero L.A., The Shards is a mesmerizing fusing of fact and fiction, the real and the imagined, that brilliantly explores the emotional fabric of Bret’s life at seventeen—sex and jealousy, obsession and murderous rage. Gripping, sly, suspenseful, deeply haunting, and often darkly funny, The Shards is Ellis at his inimitable best.

 

3. All Hallows by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s, 1/24/23)

It’s Halloween night, 1984, in Coventry, Massachusetts, and two families are unraveling. Up and down the street, secrets are being revealed, and all the while, mixed in with the trick-or-treaters of all ages, four children who do not belong are walking door to door, merging with the kids of Parmenter Road. Children in vintage costumes with faded, eerie makeup. They seem terrified, and beg the neighborhood kids to hide them away, to keep them safe from The Cunning Man.

There’s a small clearing in the woods now that was never there before, and a blackthorn tree that doesn’t belong at all. These odd children claim that The Cunning Man is coming for them…and they want the local kids to protect them. But with families falling apart and the neighborhood splintered by bitterness, who will save the children of Parmenter Road?

All Hallows. The one night when everything is a mask…

Continue reading

Best of the Best (Horror of the Year)

As a book product, the latest edition of The Best Horror of the Year severely disappoints: the volume is rife with typographical and formatting errors. But this glaring lack of proofreading by Night Shade Books can be forgiven, thanks to the supreme quality of the anthology’s contents. Editor Ellen Datlow has selected a highly impressive collection of horror stories, written by both genre veterans and promising newcomers alike.

In honor of tonight’s New Year’s Eve ball drop, here is another type of countdown: my choice of the ten best pieces in Volume XIV.

 

10. “The God Bag” by Christopher Golden

At the outset, the horrors here are of the most realistic, relatable kind: the difficulty of dealing with a parent’s dementia and failing health. But then Golden takes matters to another, uncanny level, via the titular pouch filled with paper scraps of inscribed “prayers.”

 

9. “Three Sisters Bog” by Eóin Murphy

In this wonderfully descriptive tale, a father and son’s attempt to retrieve their runaway Labrador leads them into the land and lair of a trio of sinister siblings. These weird sisters might be the most unnerving witches ever encountered outside of Shakespearean tragedy.

 

8. “Chit Chit” by Steve Toase

This crime noir/folk horror mash-up (involving a heist that aims to gain possession of buried horse skulls) reads like a literary version of the film Kill List. Toase (justly represented twice within the anthology’s table of contents) once again proves himself to be a preeminent writer of short-form horror.

 

7. “Shuck” by G.V. Anderson

A moped-crash survivor is h(a)unted by Black Shuck, the canine death-harbinger of British legend. No mere knockoff of Final Destination, though, Anderson’s story features a climactic twist concerned with more than just dire comeuppance.

 

6. “The King of Stones” by Simon Stranzas

Folk horror at its finest: nature’s seemingly tranquil beauty is belied by the performance of savage rites in an isolated orchard. This story easily garners the award for Most Harrowing Repurposing of a Peach Pit.

 

5. “Redwater” by Simon Bestwick

This relentlessly entertaining monster vehicle makes the Rita‘s venture into the Black Lagoon seem as innocuous as a Disneyworld ride by comparison. Bestwick’s narrative presents a captivating setting (the post-apocalyptic Floodland, which includes a partially submerged churchyard) stocked with unique humanoid creatures from the deep.

 

4. “Jack-in-the-Box” by Robin Furth

Blackthorn House is a remote English estate harboring plenty of Gothic secrets, but the skeletons are hardly confined to the closets. Brimming with arresting visuals, Furth’s tale would make for an excellent adaptation as a future episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

 

3. “Caker’s Man” by Matthew Holness

Reminiscent of the work of Ramsey Campbell, Holness’s story (in which a single mom and her children are terrorized by a strange neighbor) creates an atmosphere of almost unbearable dread as the creepy details steadily accrete. Safe to say, after reading this frightfest, I will never look at a birthday cake the same way again.

 

2. “Tiptoe” by Laird Barron

An odd father seems more predatorial than paternal, as Barron proves that he doesn’t have to invoke the Lovecraftian cosmos in order to unsettle his readers. Commissioned for the tribute anthology When Things Get Dark, this sneaky-scary story perfectly captures Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic sensibility.

 

1. “Shards” by Ian Rogers

The hoary cabin-in-the-woods subgenre proves to be alive and well in this inspired riff on The Evil Dead. Rogers splashes horror across the page in gonzo style, but it’s the traumatic aftermath of the protagonists’ discovery of a cursed gramophone that haunts the most. The most wildly enjoyable horror story I have read in many a year.