The Five Best Creepshow Stories So Far

The Creepshow series recently finished another frightfully fun season on Shudder. Below are my choices for the five (in honor of the number of segments in the original anthology film) best stories that have streamed so far. (Note: the contents–“Survivor Type” and “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead”–of last Halloween’s fully-animated holiday special have been excluded from consideration here, partly because they would dominate the list.)

No small part of the Creepshow charm, though, is its throwback pulp packaging, so I am going to preface my list with another pair of five-packs.


The Five Best (Corpse-)Cold Opens

1. Episode 1.1: The Creep kicks the series off by cracking open a crate (a replica of the one in the 1982 film) that doesn’t contain the carnivorous Fluffy, but rather a horde of Creepshow issues.

2. Episode 1.3: The Creep creates a remarkably grotesque jack-o’-lantern–or what he’d probably call a “hack-o’-lantern”–after dispatching some obnoxious trick-or-treaters.

3. Episode 1.6: The Creep goes fishing, and judging by the moldering corpses around him, he’s about to reel in something real scary.

4. Episode 2.4: The Creep cackles delightedly after his macabre mug gets filled with some disgusting sludge.

5. Episode 2.5: The Creep dons some VR goggles and immerses himself in a first-ghoul-shooter version of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.


The Creep’s Five Most Insidious Intros

1. …And now my rabid readers, this fancy fable of fear follows Clark Wilson on a midnight stroll….Little does he know that his future holds a fantastic find, a devilish digital that I like to call…”The Finger” (Episode 1.2)

2. …And now, boils and ghouls, a real barn-burner of a tale about a boy’s newfound, heh-heh, com-pain-yon! One that’s sure not to die on the vine! Unless you’re too much of a scaredy-crow that is!–“The Companion” (Episode 1.4)

3. …Back for more? This poisonous tale will be sure to have you bug-eyed and squirming in your seats! So strap in for this perilous parable that I like to call…”Pesticide” (Episode 2.2)

4. Welcome, dear fiends! Back for more, I see….Come join me on a voyage of fear, betrayal, and extraterrestrial terror! By the end I guarantee you’ll be gasping for air. So strap in and let’s see if you have what it takes for this otherworldly tale I like to call…”The Right Snuff” (Episode 2.3)

5. Have I got a special treat for all you ghoul gourmets. There will be hell toupee if the plumber doesn’t get to the slimy center of this monstrous mystery. This sludge-filled story will wrap you in its scum-covered strands in…”Pipe Screams” (Episode 2.4)


The Five Best Stories So Far

1. “All Hallows Eve” (Episode 1.3). Halloween iconography and lore are finely invoked in this story of a group of trick-or-treaters who are not all that they’re dressed up to be. The classic Creepshow motif of comeuppance combines with a discernible Trick ‘r Treat vibe.

2. “Night of the Paw” (Episode 1.5). This retelling of “The Monkey’s Paw” proves more than a wishful rehash (the climactic plot twist definitely ups the ante on W.W. Jacobs’s original tale). The eponymous appendage is strikingly realistic, and ultra-unnerving as it curls its own fingers down upon dire fulfillment of a person’s requests.

3. “Skincrawlers” (Episode 1.6). The body-sculpting industry is revolutionized by the discovery of an exotic South American leech that feeds on human fat tissue. Naturally, this seeming quick fix for the overweight causes terrible affliction, leading to scenes of spectacularly gruesome, Cronenbergian body horror, and the emergence of a tentacular monster that might have escaped from the set of Carpenter’s The Thing.

4. “Model Kid” (Episode 2.1). The figure of the “monster kid” is canonical to Creepshow (cf. young Joe Hill in the frame story of the original film), and this story clearly offers loving homage. Classic horror (e.g., Universal monster films, Aurora model kits) gets perfect Creepshow treatment.

5. “Public Television of the Dead” (Episode 2.1). This satiric and gloriously gonzo story combined with “Model Kid” to make the second season premiere the show’s most outstanding episode to date. Plenty of laughs (and scares) await anyone who ever wanted to see a Bob-Ross-type painter battle demons from the Necronomicon.


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!

The Legend of SNL

My essay “Eerie Rider: The Headless Horseman’s Forays into Pop Culture” (in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow: Ultimate Annotated Edition) attempts to provide a definitive account of the Irving character’s post-Legend appearances, but acknowledges that there will still be further instances following the essay’s publication. And pop culture didn’t take long to validate this point.

Showing once again that there’s no better proof of popularity than being spoofed, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was targeted during last weekend’s Halloween edition of Saturday Night Live. The five-minute skit–in which a wandering Ichabod Crane encounters the Headless Horseman (carrying his animate head)–is riotous with impropriety, as Crane and lascivious company end up tormenting the poor Horseman. Definitely not suitable for younger viewers, but a video of the skit can be found here.

For an analysis of countless other examples (both spoofs and serious uses), be sure to check out my “Eerie Rider” essay.


Treehouse of Trivia: Bonus Edition

In lieu of a full review of last night’s “Treehouse of Horror XXXI” (which I thought was terrific, and did its Halloween number proud), here’s a brief quiz pertaining to the episode. Answers appear in the Comments section below.


1. When Marge tells Homer he should vote if he cares about the three things he loves most, what does Homer immediately imagine?


2. In “Toy Gory,” Radioactive Man explodes after Bart puts him in the microwave–a reference to Gremlins. This isn’t the first time such gag has appeared on a Treehouse of Horror episode, though. Can you cite the other?


3. According to Kent Brockman’s news report in “Into the Homer-verse,” the group of Homers terrorizing Springfield do all of the following, except:

A. Over-bowl the bowling alleys
B. Empty family-style buffets of everything except salad
C. Start a doo-wop group
D. Attend a football game with their shirts off
E. Leave the library untouched


4. The episode lives up to its Treehouse of Horror title when ________________.


5. Complete the quote: “Bart Simpson, I’m gonna do what clowns do best: ____!


6. “Into the Homer-verse” gives a nod to what classic Star Trek episode?


7. In “Be Nine, Rewind,” temporal loops can be broken by all of the following, except:

A. Saving the whales in Star Trek IV
B. Bombing at the box office like Happy Death Day 2U did
C. Saying “Orange you glad I didn’t say banana” in the knock-knock joke
D. Being nice in Groundhog Day


8. True or False? Bart gets tennis elbow from his toys in “Toy Gory.”


9.In “Into the Homer-verse,” Kearney dresses up as Pinhead for Halloween. Can you cite the other time the Cenobite has appeared on Treehouse of Horror?


10. How many clips are shown in the closing credits of TofH XXXI?


History Lessons: “Witches” (Episode 2.4)

The topic of last night’s episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror was perfectly suited to Halloween. Here is some of the wisdom conveyed about cinematic witchery:


Joshua Leonard: Without Heather’s monologue [in The Blair Witch Project], and without the weird framing of that shot, I don’t think the film works. I think that very iconic moment made the film and added so many stakes and so much relatability to the film. And Mike [Williams] and I had no idea that she filmed that until we saw it for the first time in the theater.


Eli Roth: The merciless Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most recognizable creations in cinema. Green-faced, hooked-nosed, pointed chin: she represents one of the oldest villains of folklore–the evil crone. And like many horror archetypes, she’s the product of cultural anxiety.


Rachel True: It’s an analogy for female sexuality. If you notice [in The Craft], as our powers get stronger, our skirts get shorter. Society’s always been scared of women and their sexuality, and teenagers, that’s their burgeoning sexuality when it hits. So the witchcraft is kind of an analogy for the fear we have of women coming into their power.


Ari Aster: One of the first images that came to me when I was developing Hereditary was that of the dollhouse. This artist who, you know, was making these very true to life replicas of the spaces in her life. That just felt like an appropriate metaphor for this film about a family that ultimately has no agency. Ultimately, they are like dolls in a dollhouse.


Scott Derrickson: Here’s this good person [Tomlinson in The Witch], who is being consumed by an evil that she cannot escape. She only wants to be good and only wants to do what is right. And the idea of being usurped by evil is a one of the scariest ideas you can think of, from a theological or religious point of view. But at the same time, the movie is very critical, in saying that this what religion and religious hysteria and religious repression also inevitably does to young adult minds.


Rob Zombie: I like the ending [of The Lords of Salem] a lot, because I’ve always been a big fan of Ken Russell movies, and I like crazy shit. Because I thought, if you have someone [the character Heidi] who their entire soul is being stripped away because they are being dragged to hell by witches and forced to give birth to Satan, well, what’s that gonna look like?


Ernest Dickerson: What Dario Argento was really doing [in Suspiria] was, he was making an adult fairy tale. It is amazing to see that his inspiration for it was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. He wanted the color scheme of a Disney film. And he got it. It’s another externalization of the fears and the anxieties the main character’s going through.


Jennifer Moorman: It’s not common in other genres to see women as powerful and dangerous. And to watch them take back the power, and use it to break free, is really exciting.


Treehouse of Trivia Answers

Here are the correct answers from yesterday’s Treehouse of Trivia: Ultimate Simpsons Quiz. How did you rate?

0-5: D’oh!
6-10: Ay, Caramba!
11-15 Argh
16-20 Diddily-Do
21-25: Whoo-hoo!
26-31+: Exxxcellent


1. C. Bart (an interrupting Marge asks Bart to warn viewers in the TofH IV opening, but he never actually does so)


2. E, D, F, C, A, B


3. “King Homer” (TofH III), “Dial M for Murder, or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu” (TofH XX), “Homerzilla” (TofH XXVI)


4. “No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy” (from “The Shinning” [TofH V])


5. False (parodied in “I Know What You Diddily-Iddily Did” [TofH X])


6. G. The Fly (in “Fly vs. Fly” [TofH VIII]), Bart is Fly-headed, but it’s a mutation, not a Halloween costume)


7. D. Herman Munster (Homer appears as a parody of Herman Munster in the opening of TofH XI, but it is not a Halloween costume)


8. In “Dial Z for Zombies” (TofH III), Bart and Lisa plan to resurrect Snowball I (cf. Pet Sematary)

In “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” (Tof H IV), vampire kids float outside bedroom window (cf. Salem’s Lot)

In “Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores” (TofH VI), a giant lumberjack terrorizes Springfield (cf. It)

In “I Know What You Diddliy-Iddily Did” (TofH X), Homer tells Lisa to go hide in the Pet Cemetery

In “Hex and the City” (T of H XII), a gypsy places a curse on Homer (cf. Thinner)

“The Ned Zone” (TofH XV) is a segment-long parody of The Dead Zone

In “Heck House” (TofH XVII), a pig is dropped onto Homer’s head (cf. the pig’s blood prank in Carrie)


9. Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford (in “The Terror of Tiny Toon” [TofH IX])


10. D. Skinner and Chalmers


11.”But let that ill-gotten donut be forever on your head” (from “The Devil and Homer Simpson” [TofH IV])


12. Family Guy‘s Peter Griffin


13. E. Snake


14. True (clips from the first 666 episodes appear in a grid at the end of TofH XXX)


15. In “Night of The Dolphin” (TofH XI), Willie is impaled through chest by a dolphin leaping through town hall window (cf. the Headless Horseman’s staking of Baltus through church window in Sleepy Hollow)

In “Bartificial Intelligence” (TofH XVI), the Robot David trims the hedges in the shapes of the Simpsons’ heads (cf. Edward Scissorhands)

“There’s No Business Like Moe Business” (TofH XX) is a segment-long parody of Sweeney Todd


16. G. Lisa’s Pieces (Lisa is actually a nutritious apple)


17. Fran Drescher


18. In “Attack of the 50 Ft. Eyesores” (TofH VI), the Lard Lad Donuts statue comes to life (and attacks Homer for stealing the donut from it)

In the opening of TofH XXIII, the giant Mayan hurls the donut from the statue like a frisbee

In the opening of TofH XXIV (directed by Guillermo del Toro), the statue is shown on the rampage

In “Telepaths of Glory” (TofH XXVI), Maggie teleports the statue’s donut onto a radio tower

In the “Planet of the Couches” gag (opening of TofH XXVII), the statue is shown half-buried on the beach

In “Dry Hard” (TofH XXVII), the statue is shown in a state of post-apocalyptic ruin (but with a video camera installed in the donut hole)


19. D. Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”


20. The half-kneeling death pose of Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) in Battlestar Galactica


21. Treehouse of Horror (The Simpsons Halloween Special appeared in episodes 1-13)


22. A. The Shape of Water (which hadn’t been released yet, but would eventually be parodied in “When Hairy Met Slimy” [TofH XXX])


23. In “Hell Toupee” (TofH IX), the renegade hairpiece attacks Bart like the facehugger from Alien

In the opening of TofH XIV, Kang and Kodos’s boss expels Bart from his stomach after dinner

In “Starship Poopers” (TofH XX), half-alien Maggie attacks Jerry Springer like the facehugger

In the opening of TofH XXI, Bart has the alien inside stomach when he walks past an x-ray machine

In the opening of TofH XXII, Bart and Maggie dress up as an astronaut and chestburster, respectively, for Halloween


24. False (God says it is Selma, but a taunting Homer corrects him: “It’s Patty, chump!”)


25. C. “Dial N for Nerder” (which will actually an episode title in season 19 [episode 14])


26. TofH III: Simpsons as skeletons

TofH IV: Simpsons as zombies

TofH V: Simpsons as Frankenstein’s Monsters

TofH VI: Simpsons hung

TofH VII: Simpsons felled by the Grim Reaper

TofH VIII: Simpsons electrocuted by skull caps

TofH IX: Freddy and Jason sit waiting on couch, but Simpsons are already dead

TofH X: Simpsons as past characters from TofH


27. Cthulhu


28. B. Slithers (Smithers is a snake-like character named Slithers in the Harry Potter spoof “Wiz Kids” [TofH XII])


29. “Eat my shorts” (Bart interjects this before Lisa can read the actual word “Nevermore” from the poem)


30. Sgt. Sausage


31. True (although the theme music from Halloween does figure prominently in the episode “Halloween of Horror,” which aired a week before TofH XXVI)



October Dreams: A Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective

The year 2020 marks the twentieth anniversary of the amazing Cemetery Dance anthology October Dreams: A Celebration of Halloween. This subtitle says it all, as the book forms a treasure trove of holiday-themed writing, clocking in at a whopping 650 pages. Editors Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish strike a fine balance between original offerings and classic reprints (the volume features twenty-one fictional tales, plus one poem). Like the assorted sweets heaped inside a trick-or-treater’s candy bag, the table of contents brims with brand-name greats and the less well-known (but no less enjoyable).

October Dreams gives rise to tales covering the various aspects popularly associated with the holiday. There are tales of pumpkin carving: the graphic grotesquerie of Dean Koontz’s “The Black Pumpkin,” the more restrained yet extremely disturbing art of Charles L. Grant’s “Eyes.” Trick-or-treating stories galore, involving gruesome comeuppance in F. Paul Wilson’s visceral “Buckets,” and terrible revelation in Jack Ketchum’s gut-punching “Gone.” Old, dark houses loom throughout, from the shadowed abode in Richard Laymon’s shocker “Boo” to the utterly haunting structure in Tim Lebbon’s “Pay the Ghost.” Witches get their kicks from ill-treated children, whimsically in Gahan Wilson’s “Yesterday’s Witch,” and much more wickedly in creep-meister Ramsey Campbell’s “The Trick.” Self-reflexive tales take the telling of spook stories as their very subject, in Lewis Shiner’s ouroboros of an October narrative, “The Circle,” and Peter Straub’s foray into Faulknerian Southern Gothic in the novella “Pork Pie Hat.” The selections run the gamut from quiet realism (Ray Bradbury’s subtle yet unsettling “Heavy Set”) to fantastic flights of Lovecraftian terror (or descents, in the case of Caitlin R. Kiernan’s sublimely-titled “A Redress for Andromeda”).

The fictional narratives are greatly variegated in October Dreams, but the book adds even more into the mix with its inclusion of nonfiction pieces. Paula Guran’s “A Short History of Halloween” teems with information, offering plenty of savory tidbits in its baker’s-dozen-worth of pages. In “First of All, It Was October,” Gary A. Braunbeck engages in a broad survey of Halloween -themed/-related movies. Towards the volume’s end, Stefan Dziemianowicz’s “Trick-or-Read: A Reader’s Guide to Halloween Fiction” assures that there are further narrative neighborhoods to venture through.

But without a doubt, the most unexpected treat in October Dreams is the “My Favorite Halloween Memory” feature. These slices of personal memoir prove just as engaging and atmospheric as the fictional tales bracketing them. They remind the reader why Halloween is so beloved, and provide insight on how the narrators developed into writers–whether out of nostalgic hope of recapturing the delightful frights of childhood, or in the determination to surpass them.

Somewhat surprisingly, Ray Bradbury–the “October Dreamer Extraordinaire” to whom the anthology is dedicated–shares a sad rather than favorite Halloween memory (recounting his loss of holiday spirit following the death of his friend Federico Fellini on October 31st). At the start of the piece, Bradbury writes, “I often wonder why people wander around shouting to one another, ‘Happy Halloween!’ It is not supposed to be happy. We celebrate it with a certain amount of fervor and excitement, but at its core it is about those who have gone on ahead of us.” Looking back through the anthology today, I am sadly reminded of just how many of the writers (Bradbury included) gathered within the book have passed away in the twenty years since its publication. From the vantage point of 2020, October Dreams constitutes not just a celebration of Halloween; it forms a memorial to genre giants laid low. It also reinforces the function and import of Halloween horror: as the season turns dark and cold, we briefly make friends with death, that relentless predator who otherwise stalks us every moment of our lives.

After a gap of too many years, Cemetery Dance finally released a wonderful follow-up volume, October Dreams II. Two decades later, though, the first anthology remains the benchmark of Halloween writing, a book that has aged with tremendous grace. October dreams might typically turn nightmarish, but this collection affirms that they can be happily revisited.



Happy Halloween, Simpsons whizzes! Here it is: The Treehouse of Trivia Quiz. Thirty-one questions, pertaining to the first thirty Treehouse of Horror episodes (alas, TofH XXXI doesn’t air until tomorrow night). Good luck as you test your expertise. I will post the answers to the questions tomorrow, November 1st.


1. Which one of the following characters has never delivered a p.s.a-style warning to viewers about the disturbing nature of the Treehouse content that follows?

A. Marge
B. Homer
C. Bart
D. Lisa
E. Professor Frink


2. Match the Treehouse segment with the Twilight Zone episode that it borrows from:

___ “Hungry Are the Damned”
___ “The Genesis Tub”
___ “Clown Without Pity”
___ “I’ve Grown a Costume on Your Face”
___ “Bart’s Nightmare”
___ “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet”

A. “It’s a Good Life”
B. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”
C. “The Masks”
D. “The Little People”
E. “To Serve Man”
F. “Living Doll”


3.To date, there have been three black-and-white segments of Treehouse. Name one of them.


4. Fill in the blank:   “___________________ make Homer go crazy.”


5. True or False? I Know What You Did Last Summer has never been parodied by a Treehouse segment.


6. Which one of the follow Halloween costumes has Bart never worn during a Treehouse episode?

A. Hobo
B. Charlie Brown
C. Eddie Munster
D. Frankenstein’s Monster
E. Dragon
F. Headsman
G. The Fly


7. Which one of the following Halloween costumes has Homer never worn during a Treehouse episode?

A. Ghost
B. Julius Caesar
C. I Dream of Jeannie
D. Herman Munster
E. Dr. Manhattan
F. Headless Man
G. Zorro


8. Besides with “The Shinning” segment (TofH V), Stephen King has been invoked on numerous occasions during Treehouse episodes. Cite at least one example. [Earn a bonus point if you can give at least three.]


9. In the closing of the “Homer3” segment (TofH VI), Homer appears in a live-action world, but the humans he walks among remain mute. Who are the only two celebrities ever to deliver lines as their flesh-and-blood selves on a Treehouse episode?


10. The film The Thing with Two Heads has been referenced repeatedly during Treehouse episodes. But which one of the following character pairs has never appeared with their heads grafted together on a single body?

A. Homer and Mr. Burns
B. Dr. Nick and Dr. Hibbard
C. Bart and Lisa
D. Skinner and Chalmers
E. Lisa and Krusty


11.Complete the line. Devil Ned: “But let that ill-gotten donut be _____________.”


12. In the “Send in the Clones” segment (TofH XIII), which character from another animated series appears amidst the herd of Homers?


13. Which one of the following characters has never appeared in a Treehouse episode as a droog from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange?

A. Homer
B. Bart
C. Moe
D. Maggie
E. Snake
F. Lenny


14. True or False? Clips from the first 666 episodes of The Simpsons have been used during the Treehouse of Horror series.


15. Identify one reference to Tim Burton’s work in a Treehouse episode. [Earn a bonus point if you can cite more than one example.]


16. Which one of the following is not a candy that appears in “The Sweets Hereafter” opening of TofH XXVIII?

A. Barterfinger
B. Nelson’s Crunch
C. Marge Bar
D. Peppermint Selma
E. Oh Homer!
F. Kirkish Taffy
G. Lisa’s Pieces
H. Bazooka Moe
I. Senior Mints


17. In the segment “You Gotta Know When to Golem” (TofH XVII), who is the voice of the female golem?


18.The Lard Lad Donuts statue has been incorporated repeatedly into Treehouse episodes. Give one example.


19. Which one of the following songs has never played during a Treehouse episode?

A. Pat Benatar’s “Hell is for Children”
B. Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen”
C. Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”
D. Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”
E. Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”
F. The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop”
G. The Eagles’ “New Kid in Town”


20. In the segment “Desperately Xeeking Xena” (TofH X), the Collector (i.e. Comic Book Guy in the role of an archvillain) falls into a vat of molten Lucite. What pose does he deliberately assume before hardening?


21. Which has appeared more times onscreen as the episode title, Treehouse of Horror or The Simpsons Halloween Special?


22. Which one of the following Guillermo del Toro films was not referenced during the (del Toro-directed) opening of TofH XXIV? 

A. The Shape of Water
B. Pacific Rim
C. Cronos
D. Hellboy
E. Pan’s Labyrinth
F. Mimic
G. The Devil’s Backbone


23. Cite one example of a Treehouse reference to the facehugger or chestbuster from Alien. [Earn a bonus point if you can give an example of each.]


24. True or False? In “Reaper Madness” (TofH XIV), Homer tries to trick God by killing Selma and attaching Marge’s hair to her head.


25. Which one of the following has never been a Treehouse segment title?

A. “Dial D for Diddily”
B. “Dial M for Murder, or Press ‘#’ to Return to Main Menu”
C. “Dial N for Nerder”
D. “Dial Z for Zombies”


26. Cite one couch gag featured at the start of a Treehouse episode.


27. Who does Homer defeat in the Fogburyport Oyster-Eating Contest (TofH XXIX)?


28. Which one of the following is not a Rigellian alien?

A. Kang
B. Slithers
C. Kamala
D. Serak the Preparer
E. Kodos


29. Complete the dialogue (from the inaugural Treehouse of Horror): “‘Tell me, tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutionian shore.’ Quoth the raven, ‘ _______.'”


30. In the segment “BFF RIP!” (ToH XXVII), Lisa has an imaginary friend named Rachel. Who does Homer reveal as his childhood imaginary friend?


31. True or False? The theme music from John Carpenter’s Halloween has never been used during a Treehouse episode.


October: A Thirtieth Anniversary Retrospective

Al Sarrantonio is a revered scribe of Halloween-themed fiction, the author of assorted classic stories such as “Pumpkin Head” and “The Corn Dolly” (both collected in Toybox), as well as the tales and novels comprising the Orangefield Cycle. His 1990 novel October doesn’t seem to be as widely known, but it is no less rewarding a read.

Tellingly, Sarrantonio dedicates October to Charles L. Grant, the leading writer of quiet–style horror in the late 20th Century. Sarrantonio knows his precursors, and to no surprise also ventures into Bradbury Country here: the novel features a sinister encounter at a seedy midwestern carnival. The influence of Stephen King’s It (which is itself indebted to Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes) can also be detected, not just in the figure of a deadly, dreadful clown, but also in the focus on the generational recurrence of evil in a small East Coast town.

October opens somewhat slowly; there’s not a lot of action in the early pages, outside of a flashback scene of a Halloween party that takes a tragic turn for a group of high schoolers. Such pacing is surely deliberate, designed to make the eruption of violence mid-book that much more shocking. The narrative defies expectations, offering surprise yet satisfying twists. As if the notion of Abe Lincoln’s likeness on a killing spree isn’t striking enough, the novel contains moments of Cronenberg-worthy body horror guaranteed to test the reader’s gag reflex: “The thing in his mouth scrambled held his tongue in its pincers, pulled itself back toward the back of his throat–”

Similar to his Orangefield Cycle, Sarrantonio’s novel engages in a personification of festival ritual. “Saman, the Celtic Lord of Death” is rooted in mythic misinterpretation (not to mention mispronunciation)–the Celts did not actually worship some dark deity when celebrating Samhain (sow-en, meaning “End of Summer”). At least in October, Sarrantonio provides an intriguing terrestrial explanation: the figure is an ancient, chthonian, body-snatching creature hellbent on spreading carnage and chaos (especially on October 31st, a day sacred to the monstrosity after the cringing Celts–in the author’s fictional reworking of history–elevated it to godhood). The so-called Lord of Death is given a fantastic yet plausible backstory in October, and the uncanny creature hailed as such makes for a harrowing adversary here. Scenes late in the novel presented in Saman’s own, puppet-mastering viewpoint are the stuff of pure horror.

This proves to be a finely-plotted novel, with the disparate characters introduced in the early chapters later crossing paths in frightful ways. Tension mounts as the chapters, and their datelining titles, move ominously toward month’s end (the book builds to a bloody and fiery climax on Halloween night). October is also noteworthy for its well-established setting–the Hudson Valley community of New Polk, “the province of apple orchards and roadside stands.” Sarrantonio creates an even stronger sense of time, of seasonal transition: “Autumn was the bittersweet season, the beautiful, tender passing of the year from life toward death, from knowability to unknowability.” The darkening events of the narrative reflect natural earthly cycle, where bounty yields to barrenness:

Here, in the nightshade of these bare branches, autumn had already passed to winter. Dead apples. The ground was carpeted in unharvested fruit, saturated with the sharp, sick smell of rot. Insects moved into fruit corpses,, drilled holes into paling red skins. Pulp turned from crisp white to soft mealiness. Brown, the color of decay.

Within the the world of the novel, a central character (Eileen Connel) is the author of a book, Season of Witches, that has yet to get the recognition it richly deserves. The same no doubt holds true for October itself, Sarrantonio’s neglected masterpiece of autumnal terror.