How the Crowd Gathered

In conjunction with the recent American release of the Terrifying Ghosts anthology, Flame Tree Press has published a special post on its blog today. Eighteen of the contributors (myself included) discuss the inspiration for their respective stories (other authors from the ToC such as Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edith Wharton have yet to respond to the prompt, but based on the theme of the anthology, I’m still holding out hope!).

So check out the post here to find out which classic story was a formative influence on my piece “Theater Crowd.” And be sure to head back to the Flame Tree blog next Wednesday, for a post in which the contributors discuss our favorite titles in the ghost story genre. [Update, 7/7: the second post is now up on the website]

 

 

Clive Interview

Clive Barker is the interview subject for this week’s edition of the podcast Post Mortem with Mick Garris. It is a bit of a shock at first to hear how pronounced the rasp in Clive’s voice has become, but he sounds very enthusiastic, and says that he is in better health these days (which is wonderful news).

During the 75-minute interview, Clive talks about a traumatic incident from his childhood that was a formative influence on his work. His more recent experience of being in a coma is covered (his return to consciousness makes for quite an anecdote). The boundary-pushing writer also addresses the censorship battles he had to fight with editors and publishers over the years. Valuable insight into his drafting process (when working on a novel) is given. Clive and Mick reminisce on their interestingly-premised Mummy film that never got made, and share the news about an upcoming collaborative project. All told, the interview is a real treat, and one that Clive Barker fans will certainly enjoy.

The Scariest Stories Ever

A recent episode of the Lovecraft eZine podcast featured a very interesting topic for genre fans: the panelists discussed their own (as well as their audience’s) choices for “The Scariest Short Stories Ever Written.”

To be sure, such an endeavor is inevitably subjective, contingent on individual trigger points and stylistic preferences (realistic or supernatural horror, quiet or splatterpunk), and influenced by the personal mood and cultural moment in which the tale is first encountered. Accordingly, any citations should be taken in the vein of nomination, not prescription.

With that being said, I’d like to add my own two cents to the discussion with the belated addition of the pair of titles I would choose:

1. The Mist by Stephen King: Yes, I realize that technically this is a novella and not a short story. It is also one harrowing narrative–an environmental disaster turned Lovecraftian apocalypse. King gothicized a seemingly safe space (until that point, the supermarket had been the place to which I happily ventured with my mom to gather weekly treats), besieging it with carnivorous monsters from another dimension, to say nothing of the human fanatics the protagonists find themselves trapped with inside the store. I can remember lying on my bed with my copy of Skeleton Crew as a young teenager, utterly engrossed by the story, when a housefly happened to buzz past my ear. I jumped so high and so hard, I almost dented the ceiling.

2. “Darkness Metastatic” by Sam J. Miller: This transgressive, technophobic tale–which reads like a combination of Chuck Palahniuk and Philip K. Dick–is aptly placed in Nightmare magazine. It concerns an especially nasty piece of malware that is driving people to commit hate crimes and acts of mind-boggling violence. The story is rife with disturbing images (one character threatens to feed a bag of spiders to a captive one by one). The subject matter seems even more insidious based on the piece’s (mid-pandemic) time of publication, when social distancing has driven everyone towards social media. Miller’s account of Americans’ descent into insane incivility perfectly captures the frightful divisiveness gripping the country during the Trump presidency. As a constant reader of horror, I am not easily moved, but have to admit that this one struck a nerve and stuck with me long after.

 

But why stop at two? Here’s a listing of further contenders for the title of “Scariest Story.” I make no claim of exhaustiveness; hundreds of other selections no doubt could be added here. Consider this a starter set of recommended reads rather than the be-all and end-all of superlative horror narratives.

“Going to Meet the Man” by James Baldwin: Baldwin’s unflinching depiction of a lynching sears its way into the reader’s consciousness, and proves that “haunting” is not limited to restless ghosts and remote mansions.

“Rawhead Rex” by Clive Barker: This rampaging-monster/folk-horror tale used unrelenting terror to secure the #1 spot on my recent Books of Blood Countdown.

“Old Virginia” by Laird Barron: The explanation given here for the disappearance of the Roanoke colonists is more terrifying than any real-world theory ever postulated.

“The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood: Don’t be mislead by the innocuous title–this is outdoor horror (and cosmic encroachment) at its finest.

“The Whole Town’s Sleeping” by Ray Bradbury: A late-night journey through a dark ravine surely isn’t a great idea when a serial killer is on the loose. Creepy atmosphere builds towards a shocking clincher.

“The Waxwork” by A.M. Burrage: Uncanniness unparalleled, as a freelance journalist attempts to spend the night in a wax museum’s “Murderers’ Den.”

“Mackintosh Willy” by Ramsey Campbell: Ever since reading this eerie tale, I’ve never been able to enter a park shelter without fear brushing its fingers against my thoughts.

“The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter: Carter’s feminist revision of the Beauty and the Beast narrative also works as a quintessential spreader of Gothic terror.

“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison: The unforgettable title forewarns of the unspeakable horrors in store in this classic tale that takes the technology-run-amok theme to the extreme.

“Home” by Charles L. Grant: The master of quiet, atmospheric horror makes even a simple sandbox and set of swings the stuff of nightmares.

“Best New Horror” by Joe Hill: Hill makes a strong bid for his father’s genre crown with this early–and completely unnerving–story.

“Mr. Dark’s Carnival” by Glen Hirshberg: A gut-punch of a ghost story, set at the most sinister Halloween attraction since Something Wicked This Way Comes.

“The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs: Never has a a knock on the door been more unwelcome than in this ultimate be-careful-what-you-wish-for narrative.

“The Darkest Part” by Stephen Graham Jones: The supernatural, pederastic clown haunting the pages of this story (which packs enough nightmare fuel to power an epic novel) leaves the reader almost pining for Pennywise.

“Gone” by Jack Ketchum: A legend of no-holds-barred horror, Ketchum demonstrates that he can chill just as easily with a more restrained approach, in this Halloween tale of devastating parental grief.

“God of the Razor” by Joe R. Lansdale: Jack the Ripper seems like Jack Tripper compared to the supernatural slasher that Lansdale imagines here.

“Gas Station Carnivals” by Thomas Ligotti: Ligotti’s mesmerizing prose freezes the reader with fear in this tale that stages a dreadful revelation.

“The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft: For my money, the narrator’s attempt to escape from the Gilman House (and from the clutches of the monstrosities haunting the hotel) constitutes the most harrowing sequence in the entire Lovecraft canon.

“The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen: The granddaddy of weird tales, replete with human iniquity and terrible incursion by the otherworldly.

“Prey” by Richard Matheson: The written exploits of the bloodthirsty Zuni-warrior doll are arguably even more horrifying than what appears in the Trilogy of Terror film adaptation.

“Yellow Jacket Summer” by Robert R. McCammon: This Southern Gothic take on “It’s a Good Life” did absolutely nothing to alleviate my wasp phobia.

“Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” by David Morrell: Morrell’s is not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks of cosmic horror, but the author produces an eye-popping example of it here.

“A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor: A family excursion (humorously narrated) takes a sharp left into the macabre, when the murderous Misfit arrives at the scene of a car accident.

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates: Oates builds narrative suspense to an almost unbearable level, as the reader suspects that there is more than the mere seduction of a teenage girl at stake.

“Guts” by Chuck Palahniuk: Palahniuk’s notorious, unabashedly grotesque story of onanism gone wrong ultimately haunts because its extreme scenes of body horror are all too plausible.

“Lesser Demons” by Norman Partridge: A hard-boiled, post-apocalyptic take on Lovecraft, featuring eldritch wretches born from the bellies of human corpses.

“The Masque of the Red Death” by Edgar Allan Poe: Poe’s colorful plague tale painfully reminds the reader that bloody demise can be the fate of anyone.

“The Autopsy” by Michael Shea: Shea frays the reader’s every last nerve here with surgical precision. I can’t believe this graphic shockfest (first published in 1980) has yet to be adapted as a cinematic feature.

“Iverson’s Pits” by Dan Simmons: A Gettysburg-commemorating ceremony becomes the site of supernatural events that make the horrors of the Civil War seem positively quaint by comparison.

“Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner: If you didn’t know what a lich was prior to reading this unsettling sylvan tale, you certainly will (never be able to forget) afterward.

“The Walker in the Cemetery” by Ian Watson: “The Mist” meets “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” as a group of tourists in Genoa are preyed upon by a human-sized iteration of Cthulhu (in the role of sadistic slasher/wrathful god).

 

Just Added: Macabre Follows

I’ve just added a new page to the header menu: Macabre Follows. It is an annotated, hyperlinked list of online places (websites, blogs, podcasts, etc.) that lovers of horror and the Gothic will be thrilled to visit on a continuing basis.

Such cataloging is an ongoing project, and I am sure I will be adding to the page over time. I also welcome recommendations from readers of this blog (feel free to make your suggestions in the Comments section below, or to communicate them to me through the Contact form.

I hope this new page helps lead you down some delightfully dark pathways…

Fearful Year

In hindsight, 2020 was a year-long horror marathon, marked by a raging pandemic, just-as-rampant paranoia, mindless violence, and social chaos. Fortunately, for those looking to escape from real-world nightmares, or those who’d rather reflect on them through the prism of fiction, this year produced many outstanding works in the horror genre. With the year drawing to a close, laudatory lists are popping up all over the Internet. Here are some of the “best of” compilations that denizens of the Macabre Republic won’t want to miss:

Thrillist: The Best Horror Movies of 2020

Den of Geek: The Best Horror Movies of 2020

Film School Rejects: The 20 Best Horror Movies of 2020

Bloody Disgusting: The 10 Most Gruesome, Disturbing, and Stomach-Churning Moments in 2020’s Horror Movies!

Bloody Disgusting: The 10 Coolest, Creepiest, and Downright Best Horror Movie Posters of 2020

The Lineup: The Best Horror Podcasts of 2020

The Lineup: 15 Best Horror Books of 2020

Book Riot: 16 Best Horror Books of 2020 You Don’t Want to Miss

WatchMojo: Top 10 Best Horror Movies of 2020

WatchMojo: Top 10 Scariest Scenes of 2020

Ghastly Cast

One of the highlights of Halloween season (other than the fact that it is Halloween season) is the appearance of various horror-related articles in the media. Case in point: this pre-Halloween feature in Esquire that I just came across, “The Best Horror Movie Characters of All Time.” The piece, which broadly defines “character” and ranges beyond the monsters and heroes one might expect, makes for a fun read. It’s likely to keep you in the holiday spirit and inspire you to keep up with your horror-movie bingeing.

Take heart: just fifty-one weeks until next Halloween!

A Laird and a King (Who Goes By Hill)

Just finished watching the livestream for this month’s edition of the Fantastic Fiction at KGB reading series (hosted by Matthew Kressel and Ellen Datlow). Tonight’s event featured two of my favorite writers (and two absolute giants of genre fiction): Laird Barron and Joe Hill. They each gave a spirited reading of their work: Barron of a creepy story in progress called “Lorn”, and Hill of an excerpt from his mind-blowing novella Faun. The readings are bracketed by an opening chat with the hosts and a concluding Q&A segment (the authors address such topics as their favorite read of the year, their favorite villain, their recommended horror film for Halloween-time viewing). Barron and Hill definitely have different personalities (the former being more laid back, and the latter an unabashed cut-up), but made for a great pairing; both shared wonderful insights about the horror genre. Two hours of pure entertainment that seemed way too short. I could listen to these guys talk 24/7.

Don’t fret if you missed the live event; here’s the video (which has already been posted to YouTube):

The Future is Dark…

…And has me shaking with anticipation.

Yesterday on LibraryJournal.com, Becky Spratford posted a lengthy essay (“Rise of the Monsters: Top Horror Titles and Trends Coming This Season”) that gives an excellent overview of the current state of the genre. There are so many noteworthy releases forthcoming in the second half of 2020 that I get the feeling that horror is heading towards a new golden age. Reading Spratford’s piece put me on the lookout for a slew of genre titles; I can’t wait to get my hands on these books and bury my nose in them.

Quot libros, quam breve tempus, as one mildly successful horror author once reminded readers.