Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#17

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

17. “Dead Celebs” (1992)

A perfect example of Partridge’s ability to meld the genres of horror and dark crime. Ray Meleski and Cardell Word are a pair of movie-industry aspirants and memorabilia collectors/dealers who arrange for some illicit business with a whacked-out Hollywood producer of horror movies (destined to be played by Dennis Hopper if this story were ever filmed). The deal involves the delivery of a capital Bela Lugosi memento, but Ray (who also appears in the collection’s title story) gets his head all turned around when he shows up at the producer’s home and finds a bizarre costume party in progress. Every attendee is dressed as a dead celebrity (there’s Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, JFK, and John Dillinger, but the blue-skinned, seaweed-sashed, dead-crab-coiffed Natalie Wood surely takes first prize). Double-crosses, dire twists, and grisly discoveries abound, amazingly so for a story this short. The subject matter of “Dead Celebs” might not be the most tasteful, but this is one delectable piece of horror noir.

 

Autumn Lauds Anniversary

Back on 10/14/14, I published my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season. In honor of today’s seventh anniversary, here’s another selection from the book:

 

Hardly Martha Stewart

By Joe Nazare

 

A jack-o’-lantern avalanche at the foot of the front steps;
Licorice whips and chains dangling from the threshold;
The Dead-Headless Horseman draped in a tie-dye shirt;
Hitchcockian flocks perched atop cabinets and curtain rods;
A human-hand candelabra, its five waxen fingertips flickering;
Pitchforks and straight rakes in a barrel labeled VILLAGE DEFENSE;
Tabled trays of sand-witches topped with conical black hats.

And pallid Alexandra the “ghostess” for the evening.

The party guests all delighted at her macabre décor,
Remarking upon their new neighbor’s ingenuity,
Her wonderfully morbid wit and punny ways.
No one realized that Alexandra was actually a literalist,
At least not until drinks were served and the presumed straw
Periscoping from each mug full of her Spider Cider
Proved to be both thick-bristled and twitchy.

 

For more on/of Autumn Laudscheck out my website’s dedicated page, this post from last year, and the Look Inside feature on Amazon.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#18

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

18. “Coyotes” (1998)

Amigo, New Mexico, is decidedly unfriendly to outsiders, as evidenced by the opening scene of this story, in which a pair of lawless border patrolmen tie an illegal immigrant to their van’s bumper and drag him to his death. But this is more than a basic tale of racial violence (I don’t want to give too much away, but will mention that the story was first published in an anthology titled The Conspiracy Files). The narrator–animal control officer Roy–is not the most forthright guy, Amigo keeps some sinister secrets, and the titular coyotes signal more than wild-animal roadkill. Throughout his career, Partridge has demonstrated a knack for depicting desert places, but his sunbaked New Mexican setting here just might be his most chilling. “Coyotes” hits the mark for X-Files-type horror, and its conclusion also features a fine echo of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

 

Lore Report: “Ever-Present” (Episode 182)

Mention Nevada to most people and they’ll talk about the Vegas Strip–slot machines, neon signs, fake pyramids, and all-you-can-eat buffets. And sure, that’s a part of Nevada, but it’s not the entire picture. The larger story is older than the lights of Vegas, and much more dangerous than the risk of sunburn or dehydration. It’s a tale filled with big dreams, bigger losses, and more than a few disasters along the way. Yes, you may think you know Nevada, but right around the corner is something wholly unexpected and downright terrifying.

In this week’s episode of the Lore podcast, host Aaron Mahnke explores the dark history of the Silver State. In the mining boomtown of Virginia City, a hotel built over the site of a deadly mine-fire becomes the scene of a series of haunting incidents (later in the episode, Mahnke discusses some other hotel ghosts, the ominously denominated “Red Lady” and “The Stabber”). In the town of Genoa at the end of the 19th Century, a criminal strung up on the “Hanging Tree” by a mob of savage vigilantes levels a generational curse against his persecutors just prior to his lynching. These central narratives lead to a host of unnerving anecdotes (Mahnke’s last account of a cursed Genoan is an absolute goosebump-raiser). A perfectly chilling episode for the Halloween season, “Ever-Present” establishes the ghostly and Gothic as continuous threads running from America’s shadowed past.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#19

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

19. “10/31: Bloody Mary” (2013)

Serendipity would have landed this post-apocalyptic holiday story as the 31st’s countdown post, but today also seems an apropos slotting of a piece first published in October ’13. Within the narrative, the date 10/31 has the same tragic associations as 9/11, but references a whole other order of terrorizing: one fateful Halloween, for no known reason, the monsters of lore overrun the earth. The macabre marauders include witches, werewolves, mummies, gargoyles, bat-riding goblins, and zombies, but the sentient, sirening jack-o’-lanterns might be the most seasonally sinister of all. There’s a certain Dark Tower aura here, with the title character (who has a complicated relationship with the teenage boy she mentors) forming a female version of Stephen King’s itinerant gunslinger Roland Deschain. By Partridge’s own admission (in the Author Spotlight interview appended to “10/31”), he was testing out the premise with this story, and it’s clear that he has plenty more territory to explore in this strange, Halloween-eclipsed world. A novel-length development has been in the making for over a decade now, and promises to be the ultimate dark treat when it finally drops into readers’ begging hands.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#20

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

20. “The House Inside” (2003)

If the previous entry on the countdown was Partridge’s most lighthearted story, this apocalyptic piece qualifies as his bleakest. Think Toy Story by way of The Twilight Zone: a fundamental change in the sun kills off the human population, while turning plastic toys into real action figures. Assorted cowboys, Indians, and soldiers attempt to make their way from the yard to the shaded safety of the house, fighting rats and scorpions along the way, and finding a Mathesonian spider (gargantuan from the toys’ perspective) lurking inside a dollhouse in a child’s bedroom. Partridge plays masterfully with matters of scale, offering descriptions of “cat-hair tumbleweeds” and a dead boy sprawled in the yard “like a giant, pudgy mesa.” The situation also leads to some harrowing images of body horror: one hapless (and now faceless) cowboy has his “features melted slick as an eggshell,” while a sun-punished sergeant ends up glued in place from the waist down, “his bottom half smeared across the floor like the leavings of some goddamn gutter-slug.” As if the narrative weren’t dark enough already, it also presents a grim climactic twist reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead. Not a feel-good story for sure, but unquestionably a real good read.

 

Mob Scenes: Treehouse of Horror XXXII

The non-canonical status of the Treehouse of Horror episodes allows all hell to break loose–and it typically does. Last night’s 32nd(!) installment of The Simpsons‘ annual Halloween special didn’t disappoint, as it proved resplendent with mob violence.

In the first full segment, “Bong Joon-Ho’s This Side of Parasite,” the Simpsons are accosted by a group of squatters in Rainier Wolfcastle’s basement, who blame the titular family (hired on here to various house staff positions) for their lowly socioeconomic status. These angry Springfielders wield frying pans and pipes, bricks and chains (one guess as to what Crazy Cat Lady is brandishing…). Sideshow Mel’s impalement by the bone ripped from his hairdo kicks off a battle royale that spills out of the house and into the streets, and ultimately leaves Springfield’s citizenship decimated–save for the Simpsons.

Such riotous outbreak would have been satisfactory alone, but is quickly trumped by another mob scene in the ensuing segment, “Nightmare on Elm Tree.” A lightning strike animates the tree containing the Simpsons’ treehouse; it pulls up roots and runs amok through Springfield, liberating its arboreal comrades along the way. A heavily-armed street mob aims to stop the rampage, a group spurred by Homer’s wonderful war cry: “First we kill them, then we hang our hammocks!” The jokes and sight gags come fast and furious thereafter, making for an entertaining carnival of carnage as the trees saw through the would-be lumberjacks.

Treehouse of Horror XXXII‘s sampling of the Dropkick Murphys’ rollicking song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in the intro furnished an early hint of a massive-aggressive approach, and the rest of this fun episode certainly delivered on the unruliness.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#21

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

21. “Tooth and Nail” (1994)

Partridge hearkens back to mid-20th-Century cinematic monster mash-ups here, even referencing films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The narrative alternates sections between a not-quite-reliable viewpoint character (a bloodsucker dubbed the Lord of the Night) and a pair of California surfer dudes/bounty hunters, Jones and the Bird-Dog (the latter tracker is also a bona fide werewolf). Horror and humor go hand in hand in “Tooth and Nail,” which is filled with witty banter and sports one unforgettably sardonic quip when werewolf and vampire face off. For all of the dark appetites of its characters, this brief but highly satisfying story arguably goes down as Partridge’s most lighthearted effort.

 

Trope Trick: Six Killer Riffs on the Final Girl

Horror films are streaming seemingly everywhere this Halloween season. Classic slashers are out in full force, but I have been focusing more on the post-Scream variations that rework rather than just rehash the formula. Here are six films that have taken the final girl trope in fresh, new directions (spoilers below):

 

Identity (2003)

When is a final girl not a final girl? Answer: when she proves (along with nine other characters gathered at a remote Nevada motel one rainy night) to be a personality existing only in the mind of a disturbed killer. And even within this mental landscape, the orange-grove idyll of lone survivor Paris (Amanda Peet) gets undercut by a wicked twist at film’s end.

 

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)

Tongue is impaled in cheek in this mockumentary slasher, in which a film crew follows around an aspiring killer well-versed in slasher conventions. Matters take a hilarious turn when the character Vernon has been grooming as his final girl is revealed as the antithesis of virginal. The real twist, though, is that Vernon actually has tabbed the journalist Taylor (Angela Goethals) for final girl status all along.

 

You’re Next (2011)

The turn from frightened flight to vigorous fight has always been a central component of the final girl’s in-film development, but here Erin (Shari Vinson) is shown to be badass from the get-go. Moreover, a credible rationale is given for her formidable skill set (she grew up in a survival compound in Australia). Hardcore Erin also makes for an interesting final girl in her gross outnumbering–by a series of masked killers as well as the two-faced family members who contracted their home invasion.

 

The Cabin in the Woods (2011)

This uber-clever effort takes the meta in another direction: the collegiate protagonists are mostly unaware of horror film conventions, unlike the adults who are technologically and scientifically manipulating the situation. The ultimate subversiveness is reserved for the climax, when the refusal by Dana (Kristen Connelly) to fulfill her designated archetypal role and be the last girl standing precipitates the fall of human civilization.

 

Terrifier (2016)

Art the Clown is a coulrophobe’s worst nightmare in this most savage of slashers (which has a grindhouse vibe and near-torture-porn approach). But what lands the film on this list is its surprising looping structure. Vicky (Samantha Scaffidi) goes through hell to survive Art’s horrific assault, but this gritty final girl turns out to be the disfigured wretch we’ve already watch commit a gory murder, dispatching her disparaging interviewer in Terrifier‘s opening frame.

 

Happy Death Day (2017)

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) parties hard, isn’t studious, sleeps with her professor, is a mean sorority girl, and (as is the wont of her character type in a slasher) gets killed early in the film. But while her repeated slaying take a physical toll, her each return to relive Monday the 18th pushes her further along on her slasher-unmasking, final-girl-worthy redemption arc in this witty variation on Groundhog Day.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#22

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

22. “Backbite” (2016)

Lovecraft (whose weird tale “The Hound” intersects with Partridge’s plot) meets Steinbeck in this hardboiled cosmic horror story. The narrator and his brother Russ (a scarred and haunted veteran of the Great War’s trenches) are a pair of drifters/migrant workers/petty criminals on the move, their every step dogged by trouble and terror. Along the way they encounter private cops wielding switchman’s clubs, an oracular corpse, and an undead boar–all that before Lovecraft’s hellish hound scrabbles onto the scene (his spectacularly macabre attack combatted by a Winchester shotgun). Partridge does an excellent job of establishing the Depression-era setting (something, he admits in the story’s headnote, that he has found lacking in Lovecraft’s own work), and his polished prose makes the darkness gleam. With lines like “He just stared ahead, his one eye glazed as if a spider had spun cobwebs around his brain,” “Backbite” is a piece that genre readers will sink their teeth into with relish.