Obscure Horror Movie Suggestions: Part 3

3. Holding Monocle

May I present Part 2 of my Obscure Horror movies suggestions series:

Found Footage and
Mocumentaries 

Found footage movies are such a polarizing sub genre of horror that many moviegoers have written it off entirely. Most critics treat it like a gimmick rendering their verdict before sitting through an entire flick. Some of these movies don’t even bother maintaining the effect throughout, resorting to floating cameras and mood music.

Produced on shoestring budgets, found footage movies always earn a modest profit. This guarantees annual Paranormal Activity entries. The abundance of these movies has devalued the format. Three found footage possession movies premiered this October.

Still, I’m a sucker for the few films that make the technique work. Here’s my list of obscure entries worth watching.

If you’d rather watch something that’s more cerebral check out Part 2 of this collection:

Reality Warping Reels and
Romance from the Twilight Zone

If you’re brave enough to explore the spicier side of horror check out Part 1:

Real World Horror and
Supernatural Horror Continue reading

The Monster Mashup: Classic Monsters Gone Wrong

The Headless Dreman rides again

The Headless Dreman rides again

Just in time for Halloween, comes four flash fiction stories about classic monsters in compromising positions. Each one is dark, fiendish, and a bit more risqué than my usual fare, but those aren’t the only things they have in common…

Drewcula has been caught red handed

Drewcula has been caught red handed

Dracula Gets a Checkup

Dracula worked the thermometer between his canines. When he took it out, it read seventy-degrees. The mirror over the sink hung open, reflecting an indentation where the vampire was sitting. He slammed it shut.

Maybe one of those bright young things from last night was into holistic skincare. They could’ve covered a zit in garlic. It could’ve run down their neck. Maybe they played a little too rough, threw out a tendon and rubbed garlic on to keep the inflammation down. Maybe it was still on their breath when they swapped tongues. That’s the trouble with masked affairs, you never know what you’re going to get.

Lying on the exam table, Dracula replayed the masquerade in his head. He did an inventory of everyone he’d touched and everyone who’d touched him. He counted bodies like sheep. The longer he waited, the heavier his eyes got. When he woke up, the walls were covered in plastic.

A doctor stood over him in a hazmat suit. “Mr. Alucard?”

Dracula sat up.

The doctor flipped through a chart. “It’s not food poisoning.”

Dracula sighed. His bright red eyes traced the borders of the hermetic bubble. “What’s all this then?”

The doctor ran his glove down a long list. “When the blood work came back, you tested positive for a couple of things.”

Dracula examined his hand. “It’s not silver poisoning is it?”

All those buckles and gags from last night, he’d just assumed they were stainless steel.

The doctor consulted his chart. “Argyria? No, but you did test positive for diphtheria, malaria, measles, polio, and typhoid fever, but it was the smallpox that got you on the CDC’s radar.”

Dracula stroked his chin.

“Mr. Alucard, have you visited any virology labs recently?”

Dracula shrugged. “Not that I can recall.”

The doctor’s mask did little to conceal his skeptical squint. “Think on it. There’s two places you could’ve contracted it. Maybe you can remember if the guards spoke English or Russian?”

Dracula twiddled his talons. “I haven’t been to the motherland in a long time.”

The doctor nodded, “Okay, that narrows it down. Do you recall wandering into any subterranean layers sometime this week?”

Dracula clicked his nails together. “The bondage dungeon might have been underground.”

“Might have?”

“I was blindfolded, escorted by a choke chain through a field of glass, nails, and razor wire.” Dracula shook his head. “All and all, it was a pretty tepid affair.”

The doctor nodded matter-of-factly. “Do you think you might have come into contact with any bodily fluids at this gathering?”

Dracula chuckled. “Might have? I was swimming in them.”

The doctor tapped his fingers to the muzzle of his mask. “Now this is important, do you think any blood might have gotten into your mouth?”

Dracula looked to his feet, dangling over the exam table. “Well, I do partake from time to time.”

The doctor dropped his chart. “How long have you been drinking blood?”

Dracula tilt his head back and forth. “Since, maybe say, the rise of the Ottomans.”

Rolling his eyes, the doctor threw his hands up. Walking to the border of the bubble, he turned on his heal. “Mr. Alucard, you might not want to give me a straight answer, but the CDC will want to know all about your bondage and bloodletting gathering. If you can’t tell me where it was, can you at least tell me the name of the group who was running it?”

Dracula was already shaking his head, when it came to him. He snapped his fingers. “The Aristocrats.”

Franken Drew doesn't like what his bolts are picking up

Franken Drew doesn’t like what his bolts are picking up

Frankenstein’s Monster inquires about his Donors 

Victor watched the monster gaze beyond the balcony. The creature seemed less interested in the village below than the stars above. “Father, where did I come from?”

Victor joined his creation, swirling a large glass of wine. “I thought that was self-explanatory. You were stitched together from dead bodies.”

The monster squeezed his forearm, feeling for the place where the threading linked it to his bicep. “Yes, but where did these pieces come from?”

Victor gurgled the wine in his mouth, before gulping it down. “Well son, there once was a family of traveling performers…”

***

The parents were escape artists and magicians, while the children specialized in gymnastics and juggling.

They wandered from town to town, chasing traveling circuses. Every time they caught up with one, they performed for the management, and every time they were left in the dust behind the caravan. Until one day the father came up with an act so stupendous he knew the next traveling show would have no choice but to hire them.

Back then, I was not the surgeon I am today. I’d spent my residency giving first aid to carnies: treating animal bites, scorched throats, and unspeakable sexual maladies. I happened to be in the management’s office when the traveling family came.

The father was a born hustler, promising fear, intrigue, and titillation while his wife, son and daughter stood with frozen smiles behind him. Management tapped his pocket watch. That’s when the father reached into his sack and pulled out a pair of axes. We examined the blades, while his family brought out axes of their own.

At first they simply passed their axes back and forth, like hot potatoes, but then they started heaving them, working themselves up to a fluid motion. Soon the entire family was juggling.

When the first blade slipped, it claimed the young man’s arm. Fluid shot out of the wound in angry bursts. He bit his lip without making a sound. His father instructed him to use the pain. The lad powered through until he collapsed. We figured it was part of the act, because the others kept their axes in play without so much as batting an eye.

It wasn’t long before an ax chopped off the daughter’s leg. Now she must have been a tightrope walker in an earlier incarnation of their show, because she hobbled along on one foot without skipping a beat. Her fresh stump sprayed blood into management’s spectacles. He worked the droplets in his fingers, tasting them.

I’d suspected blood tubes and prosthetic limbs, but when the stench of rotten meat hit, I doubted my hypothesis.

When the young woman collapsed, her parents kept her remaining blade in play. They now had six between them. The few seconds where they kept those axes flying were truly amazing, but it wasn’t long before the father had lopped off his wife’s head and her ax flew straight into his sternum.

Management sat petrified, realizing he’d witnessed something authentic and not some macabre magician’s trick.

My horror was overtaken by my desire. Here I’d been paying grave robbers for fresh corpses when four of them were delivered to my doorstep. The family might not have been the best performers, but they were generous donors.

I was already wrapping up the bodies, when the father reached out and grabbed my ankle. Blood gushed over his lips as he drew his last breath.

I don’t know why, but I had to ask him, “What were you planning on calling this grizzly act?”

He smiled faintly, opening his arms wide. “The Aristocrats.” Then his eyes rolled into the back of his head.

***

The monster peeled back his sleeve to examine his skin, spotting the scars where the axes left their impressions. “Father, I don’t like this story very much.”

Victor nodded into his wine. “You know son, I don’t like you very much.”

The Wolf Drew smells something funky

The Wolf Drew smells something funky

The Hunting of the Wolfman

The Wolfman ran through the forrest. His pursuers were hot on his heals, breaking twigs, hooting and hollering. What they lacked in strategy, they made up for in numbers. He’d never backed away from a fight before, but there were so many of them in the clearing.

Spotting their silhouettes in the moonlight, the Wolfman had mistaken them for a heard of deer. Charging headlong, he watched as they stood on their hindquarters. Spinning around, he realized he was surrounded by bipedal beasts, much like himself.

Their human frames had paws, claws, and big furry ears, but they weren’t werewolves, they were werelions, weretigers and werebears.

A pair of ears rose from the underbrush, followed by whiskers, and big buck teeth. It looked like a giant rabbit feeding on a fox. It was clear, the food chain didn’t apply here.

The Wolfman felt a breeze on his neck. He turned to find a weregiraffe looming over him. He fled before the creature’s hooves could come crashing down.

The Wolfman sprint downhill. When he heard the sound of rushing water, he thought he was in the clear. There was secret path across the river. Soon the rapids would be between him and his pursuers.

At the riverbank, the Wolfman searched for the rocks beneath the water. That’s when a werezebra tackled him. The zebra held him down as a werepig undid his belt.

All of his pursuers rushed out of the woodwork, but rather than snap at his jugular, they feasted on the sight of him. The werezebra bent the Wolfman over as the werepig pulled down his pants. The crowd gasped.

The Wolfman felt his tail wagging in the breeze, a nervous reaction to the situation.

The creatures bickered.

“How is he doing that?”

“Maybe it’s animatronic.”

“Do you recognize that costume?”

“Are you sure this guy’s a furry?”

“If he is, he’s not a member.”

“He’s got to be, we rented every camp ground from the highway to the river.”

The Wolfman snarled. Slobber oozed from his fangs. The werezebra let go.

Spinning around, the Wolfman bit the pig’s snout clean off. He thought he’d taste blood marinating the raw pork he’d bit into, instead he tasted cotton. Spitting it out, he spotted a wire frame sticking out.

Scanning the other monsters, the Wolfman spotted zippers, sneakers, and open butt flaps. Shuffling to his feet, the man in the pig costume returned to the group.

Tucking his tail back into his pants, the Wolfman cleared his throat. “You think I’m a member? Member of what? What do you sick people call yourselves?”

They all spoke in unison. “The Aristocrats.”

C-Drew-Lu rises

C-Drew-Lu rises

Cthulhu Crashes the Monster Mash

The nightwatchman shivered beneath the blanket. One side of his hair was black, the other had gone white. From where I stood, his head looked like a Yin-Yang.

He sang, “I was doing my rounds, late last night. When something moved into my flashlight. A creature from the lagoon began to rise. And suddenly to my surprise…”

Then he stopped.

Detective Greywood shined his light in the watchman’s eyes. The poor bastard didn’t blink.

Detective Greywood snapped his fingers. “This is how he’s been answering all our questions. We ask, he takes a few minutes to compose a verse, then he sings. It doesn’t matter if anyone’s around to hear it.”

The watchman perked up. “He did the mash, he did the monster mash. He did the mash, it was a graveyard smash–”

Detective Greywood tugged me out of earshot. “You don’t want that knocking around in your head all day.”

“Was there a verse about a lagoon in the original song?”

“No, I think he’s trying to tell us the assailant emerged from the pond.”

“And the victims?”

Detective Greywood pointed to three sets of tire tracks. “I’m betting these lead to a hole in the fence.”

We followed the tracks to three mountain bikes. One was handlebars deep in the muck, one was wrapped around a headstone, and one was dangling from a willow tree.

“I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” Detective Greywood pointed to a statue in the distance.

Its robes were brown with blood. There were cracks in its sides. Someone had driven severed arms into the granite. The statue’s wings lay in the grass, next to its head. Its face had been replaced, presumably, by the heads of all three of our victims. I say, “presumably,” because they were wearing masks.

Detective Greywood tilt his gaze back. “It’s not every day you see a totem pole made from Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman.”

I didn’t realize my teeth were chattering until I tried to speak. “It’s got eight arms, like Ganesha.”

Greywood chuckled, “Or an octopus.” Slapping on a pair of latex gloves, he pulled something out of one of their hands. “Yoink.”

It was encrusted with blood. I didn’t realize it was a video camera until he opened the viewfinder.

While Greywood watched the video, I investigated the scene behind the statue. There was a makeshift alter made from pizza trays and beach towels, fragments of candles sticking out of wax puddles, and an ancient book. Its leather binding was warped. It almost looked like a face.

“Detective Greywood, I found something.”

Greywood stepped around with his head in the camera. He shut it the moment he spotted the book. “Well well well, old leather face, we meet again.” He pressed his radio, “Call the bomb squad, tell them we need the remote disposal unit.”

“What is that?”

“The remote disposal unit is a robot with tiny metal arms.”

I shook my head. “No, that.”

“That’s the Necronomicon: an account of the old ones and the means to summon them. Open that up and we’ll have tentacles up are asses within the hour.”

“What are you talking about?”

Detective Greywood sighed. “The elder gods created humanity as a punchline to an elaborate joke. Every so often, they like to get into people’s faces and do a little insult comedy.”

I shook my head. “I’m still not following.”

“That book is full of heckles by Abdul Alhazred. Read them and you’ll find yourself in the old one’s spotlight. If the watchman’s song is true, those kids summoned one of the water beings.”

Greywood slid the camera into an evidence bag. “These boys were filming themselves reading from it, probably as a framing device for a video full of graveyard BMX tricks.”

A strong gust upended the book, skipping it across the graves, until it fell open at my feet. The arcane script was so large, I could see it from where I was standing.

I still don’t know why I thought I’d understand those words if I read them aloud, but I did. “That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.”

Detective Greywood drew his weapon. “You stupid son of a bitch!”

The cemetery shook. Headstones shot out of the ground like corks. Steam rose from the pond as it boiled over. Tentacles shot out from the water, wrapping around tree trunks, pulling something up from the depths. Water splashed across the crime scene. A giant figure blotted out the sun.

“Down here, you squid faced bastard!” Detective Greywood kept shooting until he’d emptied his clip.

The book washed up onto my shoes. I felt the pages flipping at my ankles, compelling me to read further, so I did.

“The outer ones, the old ones, and the sunken ones will come together, a cosmic collective of indescribable power, and you shall know terror by its true moniker: the Aristocrats.”

"It was a graveyard smash"

“It was a graveyard smash”

Obscure Horror Movie Suggestions: Part 2

2. Monocle Man

May I present Part 2 of my Obscure Horror movies suggestions series:

Reality Warping Reels and
Romance from the Twilight Zone

Hardcore horror movies can be a little too spicy for some viewers. That’s why I put together a list of suggestions that are more cerebral than gory, and for those of you with a zero tolerance policy for all things scary, I’ve put together a list of obscure supernatural romantic movies.

If you’re brave enough to explore the spicier side of horror check out Part 1:

Real World Horror and
Supernatural Horror

Next week, I’ll be exploring the best obscure Found Footage and Mockumentary movies so stay tuned. Continue reading

The War on Halloween

A concerned demon weighs in on the War on Halloween.

A concerned demon weighs in on the War on Halloween.

Once a year, my demon seeds rise from the soil to corrupt the innocent and harvest the souls of the damned, and once a year they’re persecuted for honoring tradition. They return to the pit telling stories of houses with lights out and signs saying, “No trick or treat this Halloween.”

As a practitioner of the ancient rites, I’m sad to see the PC police sanitize the season, safety-proofing torture chambers, and whitewashing the blood spatter off of everything.

Gone are the pillars of goat skulls, livestock bonfires, and mile long threads of chicken’s feet. They’ve been replaced with scented candles, costumes for cats, and Chia pet zombie heads. Gone are the jars of deformities, the spirit boards, and seance tables dripping with ectoplasm. They’ve been replaced with bobblehead banshees, slime flavored fruit drinks, and friendly ghost cartoons. The Casper-fication of the season leaves no room for demons.

Time was there were cloven hooves leading to every doorstep, robed carolers chanting incantations on every lawn, and wicker men filled with philosophers burning all along the horizon.

Now pagan deities pace abandoned shrines, kicking the dirt, waiting for a sacrificial offering to wander across their altars, only to be stood up by their once loyal followers. Your plane of existence used to be the best party in town. Now you’re casting our idols out of your schools and town halls. Macy’s ignores the season entirely, rolling out the tinsel and mistletoe long before it even starts to snow.

Maybe I’m looking at the bronze age with ruby colored glasses, or maybe people just don’t build effigies like they used to. Call me old fashioned, but those pagans knew how to make an entity feel welcome, filling our cauldrons with the ashes of their loved ones. These days demons are lucky to get Pixy Stix as an offering.

Humans keep removing the curses from the occasion. Not too long ago people proudly displayed captivity scenes on their front yards, where wise men chained up the innocent. They decorated trees with toilet paper, decked their halls with cobwebs, and strung crime scene tape from mailboxes to rooftops.

They turned CPR dummies into disemboweled corpses, gluing cereal to rubber abdomens, painting the flakes red to look like scabbing. They smeared kayro syrup along plastic pipes, laying them out like entrails, leading to trenches filled with dry ice that never stopped smoking.

They hung ornaments of eyeless dolls, severed limbs, and good old fashioned  asphyxiated corpses.

2. Hands Up

My little hellions skipped up driveways hungry for poisoned candy corns and apples filled with razor blades. That all changed when people started giving them dental floss and teeth whitening gum. None of these Saccharin sweets had passed through witch’s hands, been soaked in virgin’s tears, or dipped in the bowls of unbaptized infants.

People need to put the heresy back into Hershey’s, the necromancy back into Nestlé, and blaspheme back into Cadbury. They need to taste the mark of the beast in their Mars Bars, black magic in their Blow Pops, and sorcery in their Sour Patch Kids.

Every year candy bars keep getting smaller. They’ve gone from “King Sized” to “Fun” to “Mini.” Now all that’s left are tiny droplets that give a vague hint of chocolate. My demon brethren keep pumping rock music full of subliminal demands, but it doesn’t seem to be getting top 40 rotation. What we want is either chocolate or blood. It’s not in your interest to keep narrowing our options.

One house gave my little hell spawns baby carrots, claiming it would help improve their vision. These people were oblivious to my children’s glowing eyes with their healthy red bioluminescence. As if vegetables weren’t bad enough, one house dared to give them raisins. Raisins, that’s one grape state away from the holy sacrament. They might as well give them garlic bulbs, dipped in holy water, with silver crucifix centers.

What the hell is wrong with people up here?

They’ve turned their backs on their heritage. They’ve taken the occult out of their culture. Costumes celebrating gruesome grotesqueries have fallen out of fashion. This will sound like a cliché coming from a demon, but I blame the children. Human children have lost their imaginations. They don’t have the attention spans to let their nightmares in.

Kids get their costumes from cartoons, rather than the Boogeyman in their closets (who ought to know something about fashion, considering where he spends all his nights). Kids wear cheap plastic smocks with pictures of who they’re supposed to be on them.

There was a time when they were all ghouls and goblins. I used to have trouble picking out my kids from the ferrel bands of blood crazed humans. These days they’re all princesses and super heroes, trailed by chaperones in big puffy coats. It’s only college kids that go out alone, and their costumes don’t leave room for demons to hide their exoskeletons. It seems like only succubi stand a chance of blending in.

People have forgotten the reason for the season is Satan, and to a lesser extant the elder gods that came before him, but really the old ones don’t even bother anymore. Cthulhu sleeps through it without so much as lifting a tentacle to hit the snooze button, and Dagon only gets up to catch the latest Tree House of Horror episode of The Simpsons.

The real reason for the season

The real reason for the season

Halloween is under siege by progressives. They want to pacify this time of possession. They want to cast out our dark sacraments from the halls of government, claiming a need to separate church and state, but debauchery isn’t a religion, it’s a philosophy.

Their agenda to secularize the holiday knows no shame. They want everyone to start saying, “Happy Harvest Festival.”

It’s Happy Halloween! With a hard H. H for Heathen, H for Heretic, H for Hellfire. Just because you rebranded something doesn’t mean it will protect you from my offspring. That’s them ringing your doorbell right now, with pumpkin pales and flaming bags of poo in their hands. You can try to civilize them, see if that gets them off your lawn, but my advice to you is just give them what they want.

Obscure Horror Movie Suggestions: Part 1

"Have you seen this movie?"

“Have you seen this movie?”

It’s hard to discover new movies for Halloween, when the net is full of top 10 lists packed with the same usual suspects: Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Shining. They’re safe bets if you haven’t seen them, but if you want fresh scares they’re roadblocks on the information super highway. If you’re looking for a detour, let me welcome you into the realm of the obscure.

Some of my suggestions are recent straight to streaming releases, while others had limited theatrical runs. These films aren’t cult classics, they’re still looking for their audience.

Over the next three weeks, I’ll share my recommendations, everything from pitch black horror to paranormal romance, blood soaked cinema for some and mind bending motion pictures for others.

Today is Part 1: Real World / Supernatural Horror

Later I’ll post:

Part 2: Reality Warping Reels / Romance from the Twilight Zone
Part 3: Found Footage / Mocumentary

If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments. Continue reading

Portraits

A story about what happens when an intimate selfie gets sent to the wrong person.

Channeling my inner Magritte

Channeling my inner Magritte

Tess slid down the wall. The bricks offered little in the way of traction. She crashed into a puddle and didn’t bother moving. She couldn’t bring herself to look at James. Her focus shifted between the fire escape and the dumpster. She hated the way he’d been looking at her all day. He had a twinkle in his eye, like a child expecting a present. She hated the hang dog expression he was wearing now even more.

Wrapping her arms around her legs, ducking between her knees, Tess folded in on herself. “This is what I get for following my heart when it’s shit faced.”

She sobbed into her hoodie. In one day she’d shown James the broad spectrum of her: from an unhinged exhibitionist to a humiliated wreck.

“Who did you send it to?” Tess shouted into her belt buckle.

James’s coat scraped down the bricks. “I didn’t.”

“Bullshit,” Tess scoffed. Her face already stung with tears. The bouncer probably wouldn’t let her back in now that her eyes had gone bong-hit red.

Tess scratched the bridge of her nose to find mascara dripping down her fingers. She streaked it across her cheeks like warpaint. When she peeked out, she wanted James to know he was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

“Give me your phone.”

Tapping in his passcode, James gave it up without a fuss, knowing it was contraband.

Tess scrolled through his messages. He hadn’t sent a thing for months. The last message was a time-off request for a funeral. His missed calls alternated between his mother and a 1-800 number, likely a creditor. She checked his photo gallery. The pictures were all closeups of dewdrops, sunsets through treetops, and color swatches of leaves changing. There were no human subjects, not even in the background.

“I deleted them already,” James showed his palms. “I might be gullible, but I’m not that stupid. We all use our phones on the sales floor. We all show off the photo filters. I couldn’t have customers ogling you, even if it would help my numbers.”

James was giving Tess an essay answer. Volunteering too much information, to keep her from asking the right question.

Wiping her cheeks, Tess flicked her tears. They streaked like ink across the pavement. “Did you sync it with your computer?”

James rolled his eyes looking for the long way around the answer. He gave a half nod, a child caught steeling from his mother’s wallet.

“Fucking hell.” Tess kicked the asphalt.

“Of course I did. I thought I was supposed to.” James’s tone rose to meet her anger.

“They weren’t for you, James.” She told the bug zapper buzzing overhead. “They were for Jason. You just happened to be one name higher in the alphabet.”

James sighed. “Well with all your cold shoulder maneuvering in the break room, I didn’t realize the two of you were still on sexting terms.”

Tess gave that a sad chuckle. “We’re not. I just saw him hitting on this jailbait jezebel, with tights for leggings, twirling her pigtails, sucking her thumb. When he setup her phone, he added his number. I know it. I wanted to remind him of the fire still burning just around the corner from his apartment.”

James couldn’t help but smile. Not the smile that came from hearing a joke, but the involuntary smile that came from being overwhelmed. “I should’ve forwarded them to him.”

Tess scowled. “You should’ve known.”

2. Have an Apple

James ran his face down his palm, “How? I thought you and I were kicking at the tires of something. I figured you were sick of Jason looming over us, so you fast forwarded to selfie sexts.”

Backhanding the bricks, Tess bit her lip. “Don’t call them that.”

James put his hands up. “Fine, these tasteful nudes-”

“I wasn’t nude!” Tess cut in.

James shook his head. “You’re counting the devil horns? When you play strip poker do you count your hairpins too?”

“No, there was a red corset in the first few shots.” Tess spun her hands through the air. “There was a succession.”

“Semantics.”

Tess realized how premeditated her actions sounded. “Fine, call them selfie sexts.” She wiped her nose down her sleeve. “I’m going to need access to your computer. I’ll need your backups, thumb drives, everything. Not tomorrow, but tonight.”

James went red. “That’s overreaching.”

Grabbing him by the collar, Tess spoke slowly and deliberately, over annunciating each syllable. “That doesn’t matter. You’ve seen me at my most personal. I think I am entitled to see you at yours.”

James muttered, “I thought you were just being forward. I figured that’s why you’d asked for my number.”

Tess let go. “I asked for your number because you said you could help with my Halloween costume. Remember, I wanted to build the exosuit Ripley wore in Aliens and you said you had a bunch of cardboard.”

James’s hands circled each other. “I know that’s what we said, but I figured…”

“Figured what?”

James shrugged. “Listen, all I’m saying is there was coffee and daylight in the fantasy I was having.”

Scurrying to her feet, Tess backed James into the wall. “You figured what?”

He put his hands up. “That you already had a Halloween costume, which you clearly did. I have proof.”

She nodded. “Right. Let’s do something about that.”

Each your heart out, René Magritte

Each your heart out, René Magritte

James’s apartment was a little too clean. There were fresh vacuum lines on the carpet, every surface was dusted, and the dishes were still wet in the rack.

“Hold back.” He stopped Tess at the door.

“There’s some things I’d rather you not see.” Rushing in James, scooped balls of yarn off the couch. Spinning toward the coffee table, he grabbed a pair of crochet needles and a scarf with orange and maroon stripes. Balling it all up, James tossed everything into a basket.

Tess stood on her tiptoes to see. “Were those the Gryffindor colors?”

She followed her host’s eyes to a pair of round spectacles and a whittled wand on the far end of the coffee table. She ducked under his arm.

“Are you going as Harry Potter for Halloween?”

James got out in front of her. “I’m not not going as Harry Potter.”

Tess gave that a long nod. She thought he could pull it off, but didn’t want to say anything reassuring. There was something about watching him squirm that was just too much fun.

Doing a lap around the living room, she wandered into the kitchen. “Where’s the cardboard?”

James turtled up. “I haven’t picked it up yet.”

Tess squint. “But you do have it?”

He tilt his head back and forth. “I asked around.”

“But you knew where to get it when you gave me your number, right?”

James gave that a quick nod.

Tess raised her head. “But you had to ask around? I’m still unclear about your timeline.”

His eyes darted back and forth. “I knew where, eventually, on that day, yes. Do you still want to make it?”

Tess rubbed her eyes. “What do you think? Of course. I want to go to a bunch of different Halloween parties, just so I can kick down the door and shout ‘Get away from her you bitch!’”

With that Tess kicked the bedroom door in.

She rubbed her hands together. “Alright boy, fetch all your tech. I want your jump, flash, and thumb drives right here.” She snapped at the bed.

“You do realize those are all the same thing, right?”

“Oh, and if you have any USB sticks, them too.”

Setting his laptop on the bed, James gathered a pair of thumb drives from the nightstand, an external backup from the closet, and the phone from his pocket. “That’s everything.”

Tess ran her fingers down the sheets. “Do you always make your bed?”

“Why wouldn’t I make my bed?” James stood in the doorway.

Tess smirked. “Well, I just sent you those photos. Maybe they inspired you to make your bed.”

“I’m struggling to see a correlation.”

She crossed her arms, taking a step toward him. “Really?”

He shrugged. “What? Sometimes I watch movies in my bedroom.”

Looking from the flat screen in the living room to the tiny tube TV on the dresser, Tess raised an eyebrow, taking another step forward. “Really?”

James looked guilty as sin. “Yes, I occasionally make my bed.”

“Occasionally.” Tess winked. “Well, it’ll make a fine office for my purposes.” Shutting the door, Tess pushed the lock in. Opening the laptop, she plugged James’s phone into the first port and his backup into the second, then she plugged his thumb drives into the back of that.

4. Now you see me

“You’re shutting me out?” James spoke to the door.

Tess’s response was the startup gong of the laptop.

James’s shadow paced the carpet. “You won’t even know where to find them.”

The desktop loaded a picture of a Jack-O-Lantern made to look like it was puking seeds onto the sidewalk, followed by the drives. The first thumb drive was filled with resumés and cover letters for various employers, the second was all college essays.

Every folder on the backup drive was dated. “You know, you haven’t backed up your computer in three months.”

The doorknob rattled. “Right, I should really get on that.”

Opening the photo application, Tess caught herself gasping.

There was flesh onscreen, just not her own. In every thumbnail, James was standing shirtless, looking awfully serious. He wasn’t bulky or broad shouldered, but damn was he toned.

The camera had taken pictures in bursts, in some James was posing, squinting with his cheeks sucked in, in others he struggled to keep his cowlick down. Tess wondered how his abs could be sopping wet, while his hair still defied gravity. She spotted the free weights peaking out of the closet. So that’s why he didn’t respond right away. He had to pump himself up first.

Tess could’ve scrolled through the gallery, found what she was looking for and been done with this whole incident, instead she explored James’s self portraits one at a time. She couldn’t help but notice how the hairs on his shoulders disappeared the further she went, or that his bed went from a heap of laundry to a nice flat comforter, or that the direction of the light source changed. She looked up to find, the desk lamp still aimed at the foot of the bed.

Tess watched a slideshow of James spinning around searching for an angle. She watched him flex and go slack. He was cut for a skinny dude with boyish features.

The last few shots were of James in his underwear: boxers at first, then boxer briefs. He hadn’t been brave enough to go the full monty, still these pics were something to see. When it came time to present his manhood to the camera, he broke character, blushing, laughing, and messing up his hair.

These were the photos she sent to herself in an email.

When James rattled the doorknob again, Tess returned to the task at hand. Scrolling through the gallery, she found the shots of herself unlacing the corset that cut off her circulation, unwrapping the red satin number that might have fit when she was younger, and wearing nothing but horns and a smile.

Tess couldn’t help but notice how poorly that smile complimented her eyes. That was her smile for Jason, as authentic as Saccharine. It didn’t say “come-hither” it said, “come-hither, please.” She highlighted the photos and hit DELETE.

When James gave up on the door knob, Tess sat in silence.

Running the cursor over the applications on the bottom of the screen, she paused on one. Taking a deep breath, she double-clicked. When the photo booth opened, she saw herself through the webcam, a hot mess with face paint like a quarterback. Licking her fingers, she wiped the mascara from her cheeks. Running her hands through her hair, she flattened her bangs. Unzipping her hoodie, she evened up her collar.

It felt wrong to take James’s self portraits and leave nothing in return, so Tess sat up and smiled for the camera. This time it was genuine.

My Poem for National Poetry Day

Minneapolis

Most people live within 30 miles of their birthplace. I’ve been living in the same neighborhood for 15 years. I wrote this poem when I was 24. I’d been living on my own, in Minneapolis, for 6 years. I wasn’t making it in the city. No matter where I went, I felt like I was on the outside looking in. My outlook was bleak. Of all the unpublished pieces in my archives, I’m sharing this one for National Poetry Day because of its harsh brutal honesty.

In the Mouth of Minneapolis

Your check bounces at the impound lot
The city repossesses your job
Your schooling
Your girlfriend
You’re a convicted pedestrian
Serving out your community service
Not by the hour
But by the blister

Automatic teller machines scold you
Like a mother wielding a report card
The city shrinks down
With each negative digit
To its lakeside parks
And wooded bike paths
Now food and shelter have an expiration date
Your bar tabs condemn buildings
Beer pitchers turn from brown to yellow
From yellow to “Thanks guys, I’ll get the next one”

Traffic lights flash red as you cross the street
Lamp posts dim as you walk beneath them
Minneapolis does not want you to know where you are going
Minneapolis does not want you to leave

Your list of cabbies and escorts
Dwindles in your cell phone
Menu, options, erase
Menu, options, erase
The city shrinks down
To its chained table sets
To its three legged love seats
With the springs at your back

Now all you order is water

The man behind the desk
Looks at your wheatgrass hair cut
Your brown moss stubble
Your wild berry pupils
Last months employment history
Tattooed to your face
Minneapolis garnishes your wages
Before you could even offer up a clammy hand shake

Minneapolis wants you to work for her exclusively

Girls walk by with their pastel cardigans
Stitched to their shirts
With their eyes so big and blue
You know they’ve seen Europe
You’re invisible in your frayed shoe laces
Your tan line for a wrist watch
Minneapolis has laid a claim to you
Minneapolis wants to go steady

When you walk under bridges
When you pass through bus stations
You feel like you’re viewing homes
Un-taxable real-estate
Your hands in your pockets
Eyeing the benches
Kicking the dirt
Checking for outlets

You thought you were just passing through
On your way to someplace bigger
Thought you could get by on your looks
On your youth
Thought you could sweet talk
A record contract, a publishing deal
A bachelors degree, and a wedding ring
Out of this city

But Minneapolis will digest you
In her seedy underbelly

Make Fear Work for You

Fear always has a confidant handshake

Fear always has a confidant handshake

Everyone is superstitious about something. In the information age, there’s still plenty of unknowns to be afraid of. Not every bump in the night can be blamed on an appliance. For writers dabbling in horror, this is a good thing. Today we’re going to mine our superstitions for inspiration.

We’ll be ignoring the classics in favor of ones that are more cerebral. I live with a black cat, when I worked in building maintenance I walked under ladders daily, and I can’t have a conversation about Clive Barker without saying, “Candy Man” at least five times.

Minnesota sidewalks fracture every winter, the only places to step are on cracks, and there’s nothing wrong with my mother’s back. So shout, “Bloody Marry” into a broken mirror, open six umbrellas indoors, wear black on Friday the 13th, breathe heavy on your way through the cemetery, and don’t worry if no one blesses your sneeze.

I want to talk about your secret superstitions, your fascinating phobias. The ones you’re too ashamed to share, but still give you a good scare. The ones you formulated without the playground think tank, the campfire seminar, and the treehouse entrepreneurs.

Those childhood fears that survived your intellect, the ones that you can never seem to purge from your obsessive compulsive rituals, those are the ones I want to tap into. Think of it as a writing exercise to draw out original ideas, to keep your scares from feeling tired and dated.

If an aspect of the unknown becomes known, it isn’t scary anymore. Horror trends have desensitized audiences. Exorcism movies have demystified demon pathology. There have been so many Ouija boards on film that another one isn’t going to frighten anyone, unless it uses hashtags and emoticons.

If you want to communicate with modern ghosts, you'll need hashtags and emoticons

If you want to communicate with modern ghosts, you’ll need hashtags and emoticons

Psychological terror hides in the dark, just outside the radar of your senses. You can feel it, but you never get a good look at it. That’s where your sophisticated superstitions reign, where your half asleep lunacy becomes reality. That’s where we’re going to find our story.

Say "Hello" to my little friend

Say “Hello” to my little friend

The Fear Test

The best way to know if your superstitious belief has teeth is if you fear it more than something you should be afraid of. Irrational fears have a way of eclipsing legitimate ones.

I used to live in an apartment above a parking garage. The unit rattled every time the door opened. One day someone discovered a body in the dumpster. A mentally handicap neighbor didn’t know what to do when his mother died, so he dragged her down there. Out of some morbid curiosity, I went into the garage to find the dumpster aligned with my bedroom.

That night I woke up to a tapping on the window. A silhouette was peaking through the blinds. Slipping out of bed, I crawled into the hall. Armed with a Maglite, I charged outside to find a pair of homeless men passing a glass pipe on the window sill. I wasn’t frightened by the crank craters lining their cheeks. I was just happy these men weren’t the ghost of the woman from the dumpster. That irrational relief gave me the courage to trick them into thinking I was a cop.

True story. Here’s another one.

I used to go for walks at night when I had trouble sleeping. My insomnia got so bad I started seeing things. My subconscious planted shadow people behind every tree trunk.  I saw them peaking out, ducking behind trash cans, and kneeling in the tall grass. The second I caught one stepping into my path it disintegrated on impact.

We’re programmed to recognize faces from birth. It’s no wonder we see them in wallpaper, tree bark, and the surface of Mars. Deep down, I knew these hallucinations were glitches in my brain’s ability to spot patterns, but they just kept coming.

What made the shadow people all the more disturbing is they were never just chilling out doing their own thing. Walking around the lake, I never spotted them fishing, reading on the docks, or making out on the benches. The shadow people were always on the hunt. They rose from the water, dropped from branches, and lunged at me from the bushes.

I had this childlike notion that the shadow people were real, that my sleep deprivation dulled the feedback from my other senses, allowing me to see them. That’s why when I heard footsteps rushing up behind me, I was relieved to find a bulky man clutching something in his jacket.

When I calmly said, “Is there something I can help you with?” he was taken aback.

He took his hand out of his pocket and laughed. Through a bizarre turn of events, we chatted on the way back to my apartment. It took several blocks for me to realize he’d planned on robbing me, but changed his mind when he saw that there was no fear in my eyes. Over the course of several cigarettes, he all but admitted as much. Still, I was comforted when I turned around and saw a man and not a shadow assuming the shape of one.

Rational fears are topics worthy of your writing, but psychological terror shouldn’t be so easily defined. Show us your shadow people. Share the ghosts in your basement. Give us something we’re not used to seeing.

See my credentials

See my credentials

Rather than purging your fear with some loud distraction, I dare you to embrace the silence. I dare you to ask yourself the following question:

Wouldn’t It be Terrible If?…

I’ve written articles on one of the easiest ways for writers to find inspiration by asking “What if” questions.

What if a house cat got exposed to gamma radiation and hulked out at the sight of a laser pointer?

What if a house cat foiled a group of terrorists by knocking houseplants onto them?

What if a house cat thwarted a serial killer by triggering all his traps before they hurt anyone?

Horror stories start with a modified version of the same question: “Wouldn’t it be terrible if this happened?”

Wouldn’t it be terrible if the only reason the monster in my closet hasn’t struck yet is because I wasn’t ripe?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if there was an anti-Halloween where demons come to earth posing as people?

Wouldn’t it be terrible if everyone on earth stared at me when I wasn’t looking, but somehow I found out it was happening?

Chrome Face

Chrome Face

Next time you’re searching for inspiration, I dare you to stare into the dark until you find something. Next time you recognize an irrational fear, make a note of it. If it keeps rising on its own, you’ll know it has staying power. Indulge it, let it drive you crazy, then direct its evolution.

Why dismiss your fear, when you can put it to work? Developing it into a story might just be the best way to overcome it. These waking nightmares might just be your subconscious’s way of plotting. After all it’s not madness if you use it.

Too Many Options

The last suit in the closet
The last one that fits
With bleach splatter pattens
And holes in the armpits
Every string frayed
Every edge ripped
Every loom line showing
Just where it was stitched

I’ve got too many books
So I don’t don’t read anything
I’ve got too many movies
So I don’t watch a single one
I’ve got too much information
But no knowledge to flaunt
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want

The last tie on the rack
The last one to lose its shine
With remnants of a pattern
And deep Windsor lines
Every fiber faded
Every weave undone
Every red power lie
Exposed and gone

I’m in the heart of the city
So I don’t go anywhere
I’m surrounded by bars
So I stay home with my liquor
There’s a crowd outside
So I don’t talk to anyone
I’ve got too many options
But not the one I want

The Difference Between a Ripoff and an Homage

“Who the hell is this?”

Everything has been done before. Accept it. Everything has been said before too, you can check Google for the transcript. Odds are your fresh blockbuster pitch is already on Netflix, and The Twilight Zone beat you to your fresh story by more than half a century.

A writer can only make so many variances to the same old tale. There are thirty-six dramatic situations, fitting into seven basic plots, told in three acts, following the same hero with a thousand faces. Do the math, show your work, or go ahead and copy off your neighbor because it really doesn’t matter.

My early efforts tried to break the formula by adding variables to the equation. I’d mix genres, combine my favorite characters, and play with dated one-liners. I thought it all added up to something unique, until my friends easily pegged the sources of my inspiration. My creativity was less than the sum of my influences. All of my additions amounted to a zero sum.

So I got abstract, bogging my screenplays down with themes I’d taken from dreams. My professor called them Lynchian, another apt comparison, pointing out that David Lynch was already on the road I was going down.

When I started writing horror, I trekked into obscene depths, searching for a story so grotesque no writer would dare tell it. I’ve mined the pit of human depravity only to find others had been there before me. The moment I thought I’d come up with an original concept, I’d find it’d happened in the real world and there was already a made for TV movie.

Like Chuck Palahniuk says, “You can’t invent a new sin.”

Turns out I’d read so many books and watched so many movies that I could never be sure if an idea was truly my own. Of course I could have gone out into the world in search of inspiration, but I grew up in Minnesota, it’s cold and it’s not good to leave your video games on ‘pause’ for too long.

I was down to a few options: plagiarize an obscure story and pass it off as my own, like a bad musician sampling without giving attribution, or show up to the party in the same dress as Stephen King and just tell everyone how I’m wearing it different (yup, that’s the analogy I’m going with, now it’s up to you to try to visualize it).

I decided if anyone pointed out that Mr. King was donning the same sparkling skirt I was vamping around in, then I would just say, “I know, my outfit is an homage to his.”

"It's not me you fool. That's the evil one!"

“It’s not me you fool. That’s the evil one!”

The Difference Between Fan Fiction and a Proper Homage

The biggest difference between fan fiction and homages is that fan fiction brings established characters into new situations, while homages bring original heroes into familiar ones. With an homage, it’s not uncommon for the setup to be the same as a classic, while the payoff might be completely different.

If you’re writing modern day characters the audience will assume they’re familiar with pop culture. You can’t introduce a vampire and pretend your characters have never heard of Bram Stoker. Dracula is the most filmed literary figure of all time. If your characters see someone sucking blood from a neck they better not say, “What the hell was that thing?”

If they do, we’ll be wondering if they live in an alternative reality where Nosferatu never happened. That kind of convenient naivety breaks the suspension of disbelief. It’s better to have one of them hang a lantern on your influence, draw attention to the similarities to let your audience know that your interpretation is going to be different.

Right now I’m working on an homage to Robert W. Chambers’s classic supernatural horror story The King in Yellow. In Chambers’ 1895 book, copies of a mysterious play have caused such widespread madness that the government has installed Suicide Chambers on every street corner. The banned text The King in Yellow resonates so powerfully with anyone who dares read it that they go mad from the revelation.

My story is about a modern private detective, investigating the death of a script reader who read an adaptation of Chambers’s fabled play right before setting himself aflame. The detective has to trace the cursed screenplay’s origins before it can claim another victim.

Now I know, Chambers isn’t that obscure of an influence to borrow from.

The King in Yellow inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s tome of forbidden knowledge The Necronomicon. Lovecraft also put a copy of the play itself in the Arkham Library appearing in many of his stories. He found Chamber’s story so inspiring that he included the titular character in his pantheon of cosmic beings under the name Hastur.

Director Sam Raimi borrowed the Necronomicon for his Evil Dead series, while John Carpenter used the concept of the deadly book in his film In the Mouth of Madness, ensuring that the universe shared by Chambers and Lovecraft expanded into other mediums.

The King in Yellow made the jump to TV when True Detective’s show runner, Nic Pizzolatto, incorporated names, symbols, and themes from Chambers’s book into the show.

Chambers himself borrowed the names Carcousa, Hali, and Hastur from Ambrose Bierce’s short stories An Inhabitant of Carcosa and Haïta the Shepherd. In his story, Chambers offered a mere glimpse of The King in Yellow play, but the setup bears a striking resemblance to Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

If a piece had a profound impact on your work, why not slip in a mention of it? Stephen King’s short story N, has a character slyly compare his situation to the plot of Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan (which inspired me to quote it at the beginning of my own novella).

The take away point here isn’t stealing is fine because everybody does it, it’s that influences are for everyone.

My evil clones never do any chores. They just taking over the couch and claim all the video game controllers

My evil clones never do any chores. They just taking over the couch and claim all the video game controllers

If Everything has been Written Before, Why Bother Writing Anything?

If after reading all this you find yourself having an existential crisis, then good. My work here is done. Until next week. I mean, wait.

So what if everything has been done before? It hasn’t been done by you yet. Those stories haven’t been told with your voice, using your life experiences. Your take is going to have some variances. An awareness of what came before will allow you to play with your audience’s expectations, a slight deviation will feel like a full on twist.

So what if your idea shares a setup with something else? Movies are pitched like that all the time. Under Siege is just Die Hard on a boat, Passenger 57 is just Die Hard on a plane, and Home Alone is just Die Hard with a kid. Isn’t it time you stopped worrying about being so fiercely original and wrote a Die Hard of your own?