Tag Archives: Featured

Help Us Name a Dating Site for Monsters

I’m teaming up with professional creature illustrator Bryan Politte to make dating profiles for monsters and we need your help naming the project.

Our Pitch

Horror writers take universal fears and intensify them. They add dumpsters full of oil slick tentacles to long dark allies. They perch gremlins on airplane wings and send great white worms into enclosed caves. While those fears prey on our animal instincts the fears that plague our modern world are social, romantic rejection being chief among them.

With all the new apps and etiquette modern romance is scary to navigate. We write bios to express what makes us unique, while burying our private peculiarities. We put carefully curated images out there hoping somebody likes what they see. We scream into the void and shudder when it whispers back.

I want to take that fear and add monsters to it.

With the help of my friend Bryan Politte, a professional creature illustrator,I’ll be creating a series of dating profiles for freaks, demons, and urban legends. Bryan will illustrate each sinister selfie while I write the dating profiles, which will read like flash fiction horror stories.

Our goal is to make something spooky that goes beyond parody. Each piece will be chilling and heart rending at the same time. This won’t be a mockery of the dating scene, but rather a love letter to the misfits caught up in it.

“Handsome Harold likes cuddly creatures and parties” Illustration by Bryan Politte

These monsters won’t be exaggerations of the worst people you might meet online. They will be mirrors of all of us. These monsters will lead with their red flags in the hopes of finding someone who doesn’t spook easily. They will overshare their sins in the hopes of being understood. They’ll flaunt the things we hide. They will be every bit as monstrous as we secretly believe ourselves to be.

We think this concept is pretty cool. If you do too then help us out by voting on a name, and if you have a better idea for one then we’d love to hear that too.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Tunnel Vision

What would you do if you woke up to find an endless tunnel in the middle of your home and  that your cat was missing?

Dreams drop us in the middle scenes with no set up and no direction. We enter the situation, “And… action!”

The difference between a good dream and a nightmare is our ability to improvise with the material we’re given.

This nightmare was set at the height of winter out on the roof of a snow-covered skyscraper. The skyline was as flat as a matte painting. The low hanging moon provided the spotlight and the low roaring wind supplied the soundtrack.

From where I stood it seemed like I’d come in at the end. The supporting cast fanned out from the roof access hatch. These were people I’d known very various stages of my life: work colleges, college classmates, good friends, and lovers I’d left on bad terms. Each of them drudged through the snowdrift with their gloves up, like I was a threat. All eyes fixed on me.

I was perched on the ledge wearing nothing but my quivering arms and I must’ve been out in the cold for a while because my goose bumps were as raised and thick as brail.

My supporting cast inched closer. The urgency on their faces was undercut by the cold. They clutched the elbows of their long down coats, scarves fluttered into their faces, and their breath spiraled through chattering teeth.

The cast was restless, teetering on their marks, waiting for me to get back on script.

An ex girlfriend in a long goose feather coat stepped forward, rubbed her mittens together, and pointed over the ledge with her chin. “Yes, and?..”

“Yes, and…” is the foundation of improv comedy. It enables comedy troops to cobble together a story from suggestions from the audience. The “Yes” means you’ve accepted the contribution of your cast mate. The “And” means you’re ready to build on it. There is no “No” in improve comedy. You just have to go with the flow.

This ex of mine hadn’t given me a lot to work with, but nothing would be more embarrassing than brain farting through her setup. So I “Yes, anded” over the side of the building.

The set melted into a blur of streetlights and fire escapes. The full moon whirled into a straight line. I stopped rolling just as the street came into focus. I could just make out the steam vents and the cinders rising from the burning barrels. Ashes to ashes we all fall down.

And… Scene.

•••

I woke up to an earsplitting hissing and metallic gong. I followed a trail of business cards to the desk at the foot of my bed. The white noise machine was swinging by its cord, a fist-sized mallet tapping a rhythm on the aluminum. The devices usual calming brown noise had shifted to a piercing white. The box roared like a blizzard through a canyon. I dialed it down as I pieced together what had happened. My cat, Dexter, had had some fun pawing at the flashing blue buttons, gotten spooked, and fled the scene in classic Dexter fashion. He’s a bad boy. He knew what he was doing.

I sat at the edge of the bed deconstructing my dream death waiting for the sobering sense of relief to come. When it didn’t I wandered around the apartment flicking on the lights, calling for Dexter as I went.

“Dexter. The big mean droning sound is gone. You can come out now.”

It was in the living room where a chill set my arm hairs on end. I turned to the windows expecting shattered glass and swinging blinds, perhaps a brick from a secret admirer on the floor, but no. All the glass was intact, closed up, and locked down.

The chill crept around me and tapped me on shoulder. I felt the kitchen wall, flicked the light switch, and staggered over the trashcan with all the grace of a cartoon waiter.

Between the litter box and the refrigerator a two-lane tunnel stretched as far as I could see. My 400 square foot apartment now ran on for miles. The carpet and ceiling stretched so far off into the distance that they came together into a vanishing point.

“That’s new.”

With the acceptation of the kitchen table and chairs the dining room’s features repeated forever. The tunnel must’ve cut through the complex, the back lot, and the neighboring buildings. It was like a beige superhighway stretching off toward the ocean. Long red pasta stains marked the lanes. Clumps of cat litter and outlets marked the shoulders, and the accumulated ceiling fans, with their low emitting bulbs, looked like lamp poles in the distance.

“Cool. So I’m crazy now.”

I laced up my sneakers and ran out to the back lot. The dumpsters were brimming with discarded mattresses and beer cans, and the lot itself was in dire need of plowing, but there was no skyway expansion extending off the complex. On my way back I ran into a neighbor corralling her terriers into the hall for a late night potty break. I ogled her puppies and we exchanged a smile. We Minnesotans are notorious for holding in our opinions, but if she’d seen a tunnel cutting through her apartment she would’ve said something. Instead she just tugged her terriers by their leashes to give me room to squeeze past.

When I got back into my apartment the tunnel was still there defying all architectural logic.

“Okay, point one for crazy.”

I hurled a cat toy into the tunnel: a little ball with a bell in it. It jingled for a moment and came to an abrupt stop. Then something occurred to me. Where was Dexter?

“Dexter? Here boy.”

Dexter wasn’t a dog. Odds were he thought his name was what all humans said when they’d lost something. I found a can of tuna. Tapped the lid. Took my time peeling it back and spilling the wet food onto a plate. I set it on the table, but Dexter failed to show. I’d used up all of his Pavilion programing. Now we had a problem.

Ever the boy scout I filled a backpack with a handful of granola bars, cat food, a flashlight, a first aid kit, and a water bottle.

I took my time stepping over the threshold half expecting to hit an invisible wall. When my toe touched down I realized the tunnel was real and Dexter was really gone. The thought had me powerwalking, jogging, and ultimately sprinting into this strange impossible void. The support beams groaned beneath me. Each footfall echoed on the ceiling. I had no clue who or what resided below this corridor, but they didn’t seem to mind the ruckus I was making. So I kept going until I ran out of steam. I jogged until I felt it in my sides, and powered walked until I had to take a breather.

I sat, rifled around my pack, took a swig of water, and tapped my smartwatch. I was one thousand steps in, which was roughly half a mile.

I shouted. “Dexter!” My voice boomed down the tunnel. I was taken aback by just how loud it got.

It occurred to me that I had no idea what would happen if I got turned around in here. So I dug out a sharpie and drew an arrow on the wall pointing back the way I came. The marker screeched. The tone echoed all around me. The tunnel had a strange way amplifying sound.

I decided to press on a little further. The arrow repeated like a background from a Tom and Jerry cartoon.

I stopped, drew an X on a can of tuna, and set it in the center of the tunnel. I took five steps forward and found another can with an X and another. I picked it up, examined my mark, and slipped it back in my pack. The duplicate cans disappeared after that.

The physics of the tunnel didn’t make sense. The arrow had repeated, the tuna can had repeated, but the cat toy I’d flung in from my living room was nowhere to be found.

I checked my watch. I was now a mile in. I scanned the vanishing point. The tunnel dipped over the horizon. I had a sneaking suspicion it stretched across the continent.

I couldn’t see Dexter venturing this far into a new space on his own. One time I took him down to the laundry room to give him a change of scenery. He crawled between the machines and parked his little limbs beneath his belly, a little loaf of kitten too scared to go exploring. He had his safe spaces. I had a hunch he’d hidden behind the bookshelf upon spotting the tunnel.

I turned back and that’s when I saw my exact double spinning on his heel. The didn’t notice that the top of his pack was hanging open. I reached under my shoulder and found my own zipper dangling. My double zipped his pack shut and turn to look at me. I faced forward and saw nothing but the vanishing point. I turned back just as my double turned forward.

“Hey handsome!” Our voices boomed in unison. There was no echo. No delay just a broken mirror reflecting light the wrong way.

The hairs on the back of my collar stood straight up. I turned sideways and craned my neck. My double mirrored my movements, revealing a triple, quadruple, and quintuple of me standing just beyond him. Each of these copies shuddered in unison. It was like facing a camera to a monitor and stepping in between the two. Except this feedback loop was framed by dining room.

I don’t know why my first instinct was to reach into my pack, draw out a can of cat food and chuck it at my double’s head, but that’s what I did and it clipped him right where it clipped me.

I took out my flashlight and shined it back the way I came. A chain of beams gleamed all the way to the vanishing point.

I ran after my double, thinking I could tackle him and break the cycle, but he matched me step for step. After several minutes I watched him clutch his side, feel his carotid pulse, and stagger. Winter had frozen our running regiment and we were both out of shape.

I watched my double slap himself and felt it upon my cheek. We wanted to wake up, but time and space were broken.

This had to be a dream. The only problem with that theory was how consistent the architecture was. The subconscious has a short attention span. It can only keep so much of its surroundings in place before shuffling them again. This place remained fixed. The tunnel never shifted dimensions. The carpet stain remained consistent. The arrow never changed shape.

It occurred to me to check my watch. I’d run a thousand steps since last I’d checked, which meant I was a half a mile from home.

I wondered what would happen to my copies once we got back. Would they cram together in the living room, divvying up a box of Diet Coke among them? Would they blink out of existence? When I made it back into the kitchen table would I turn around to find the dining room wall had returned? What would I do if it hadn’t, call the landlord and have them send a maintenance technician in with a long piece of string?

“You don’t want to go in too deep or else the Minotaur will get you.”

I walked another half mile and you know what I found? The tunnel kept going and the chorus line of me were waving our arms around, struggling to understand what was going on. I’ll be honest we were losing our collective shit.

I took out my phone, opened the photo application, and zoomed in on the tunnel’s vanishing point. It kept right on going. We didn’t take that news so well. My double flung his phone like he was skipping a stone. A phone spun between my legs, slid between his ankles, and settled at my toes.

That’s when we started punching the wall. We hammered at it until cracks spread, dust rained down, and blood trickled through our knuckles, until our wounds filled with plaster, until it seemed like the whole goddamn wall was vibrating, until each of us had made his own little hole.

I chipped at the gap until I could get a good grip, pressed my heel against, and pried off a good chunk of drywall. Not enough for me to fit myself through, but enough for me to get a good look at what was on the other side.

All I saw was the same damn dining room, but from a new angle. There was another copy of me. This one was chin deep in a hole like the one I was looking through. This was no way out, just another way further in. If I tore up the carpet, pried up the floorboards, and jumped through gap I’d probably fall just forever. The world was gone. There was only an endless honeycomb of dining rooms going on forever into the astral plane.

My pulse throbbed throughout my fist. I scrapped the plaster off my knuckles, dressed the wound, and lay in the mess I’d made with the cat litter and the salsa stains.

•••

My eyes opened to a ceiling fan whose blades were in dire need of dusting.

Wrenching myself up I got a palm full of drywall. My earlobe ached. I must’ve positioned my backpack like a pillow and the pain I was feeling was from resting on the zipper. I sat up to find the dining room still went on forever, as did the mile of me’s.

“Oh, come on!” We said collectively.

This nightmare wasn’t fading. It was doubling down.

I ate my breakfast on the go, discarded the granola wrapper on the floor, and counted five paces between where I dropped it and where it reappeared. I passed it for several miles before I got sick at the sight of crumpled foil, scooped it up and put it back in my pack. It wasn’t long before I’d eaten every the bars I’d packed and my stomach kept right on rumbling.

I wish I could tell you I’d rationed the four cans of cat food over several days, but I didn’t. The moment that first little bit of tuna passed through my lips I had to have rest. I slurped up the fourth so fast that I didn’t think much of slinging it over my shoulder when I was finished.

I walked three more miles before my watch flashed a low battery warning and shut down. My phone died shortly after leaving me alone with my thoughts, which also went dark.

A thought had been pecking at me for miles, but now it was weighing me down. What if the dream where I was out on that snow covered roof wasn’t a dream at all? What if I had staged a twisted reunion with long lost friends just so I could fall to my death in front of them? What if I was dead and this was hell?

Would Rod Serling come out of the woodwork to confirm my suspicions?

“Submitted for your approval a lost soul who will never reach his goal. A man who mistook real life for a dream only to awaken in the endless void of The Twilight Zone.”

At first that theory didn’t explain why I was able to exit my building or why I could interact with my neighbor and her terriers, but then I considered the possibility that hell had toyed with me, lulling me in with a false sense of security before clamping shut around me.

Still I couldn’t remember what had inspired me to take a swan dive from a skyscraper. Perhaps this infinite hallway was here to give me time to remember.

I’m not going to lie I’ve been low before. I’ve sat in the shower for hours, watching my fingers prune up in real time. I’ve lain on the carpet as sun lines showing through the blinds stretched across the ceiling. I’ve slumped onto the kitchen floor as Dexter knocked Tupperware off the countertops.

I’ve imagined my family struggling to plan a cost effective funeral. I’ve wondered which friends would bother to give a eulogy and if anyone would tell the priest I was agnostic.

I indulged this fantasy more often than I care to admit, but I never had a quit plan. I never looked up what pills to take, never tried to access a firearm, never bothered to trace my veins for a quick anatomy lesson.

With depression the void is always calling, suicidal suggestions always running in the background, but I’d gone through a long bout of tuning them out.

And how could I take my own life when I still had Dexter to take care of? That would be kind of a dick move on my part.

That was the detail that poked the hell theory full of holes. If I was already dead then why was I so hungry? What happened to the cat toy I threw into the tunnel earlier? For that matter what happened to the can of tuna I’d flung over my shoulder? Why wasn’t I seeing that every five steps? And why did my phone loop back around when I skipped it like I stone? Did it have something to do with the direction it was thrown?

I turned away from my doubles. The arrow on my right was on my left for the first time in a while. I took my phone out, cocked my arm back, and flung it as far as I could. It clipped the fan blade, scrapped the ceiling, and disappeared into the unknown.

You know what they say about guys with big feet? They wear big shoes. I wore a size 13, which was roughly twelve inches long. I walked heel to toe along the wall drawing a notch for every foot. The dining room was a mere ten feet long. I drew a line across the carpet to mark where it looped around. I looked back to see my doubles had done the same thing. I peaked through the hole in the wall to see the grid extended in all directions.

I gripped my pack by the hook, spun it like I was winding a discus, and hurled it as far as I could. It flew over the first line and dematerialized over the second and was gone in a blur of movement. That was all the proof I needed.

“Well, here goes something.”

I got into a starting position, dug my toes into the carpet, and counted down. “3… 2… 1!” I charged with all the energy I could muster, hitting my stride ten quadrants in, but I leapt too soon and touched down just shy of the line. I didn’t bother to catch my breath. I sprung right back up, charged at the grid, leapt, and dove. I rolled across the carpet several feet from the line.

I kept missing the mark, leaping too soon, overthinking each jump, until I just lost it.

“I’ve always hated this dining room.”

I closed my eyes, ran at the dark, and roared, leaping into the air with perfect long jump form.

•••

I hit the wall, fell back, and opened my eyes just in time to see the framed photos come raining down. When I landed I was sprawled out on the kitchen table. Delinquent bills slid off in all directions.

Dexter meowed in protest to all the chaos he’d just witnessed from his perch atop the fridge.

“Have you been there this whole time?”

Dexter shrugged and returned to a cat bath already in progress.

“Dude, you could’ve said something.”

I starred at the ceiling fan, struggling to process the glitch in reality I’d been trapped in for God knows how long.

That’s when those terriers started barking up a storm. There was bickering on the other side of the wall. My neighbors were not happy about the explosive crash that had just woken them up. Shadows gathered beneath my door, the bell rang, and the police eventually came knocking.

I was holding a bag of frozen hash browns to my forehead when I let them in.

“What seems to be the matter officers?”

One officer stood with me in the entryway as her partner scanned every cubic foot of the apartment with his flashlights. It would’ve been easier to just switch on all the lights, but he preferred to keep things dramatic so I let him. I stood in the hall scratching Dexter beneath his chin.

I couldn’t help but notice the backpack, phone, cat toy, and empty tuna can in a heap beneath the kitchen table. There was no sign of any hole, seeing as how that side of tunnel was now an opening leading into the kitchen.

When the officers asked why I dove at the wall like I was the Kool Aid man I just played dumb, said I was sleepwalking, that it happens when I’m burning the candle at both ends.

“I’m adjusting to a new schedule and it has me powerwalking at inopportune times.”

The bump on my noggin corroborated my version of events. Apologies were made to the neighbors and the officers let me off with a chuckle.

I’m just glad no one thought to ask why there was an arrow on the wall and a big black line drawn across the carpet.

There were only two months left on my lease after that. During that time I kept Dexter confined to the bedroom. He hated it and clawed at the door in protest, but it was for his own good.

I slept with the TV on and dreamt about Rick and Morty. I slid the kitchen table into the living room, ate most of my meals on the couch, and I never set foot in that dining room again. Continue reading Tunnel Vision

Drew Chial’s 10 Rules for Writing

I’ve noticed a number of authors putting their own spin on Jonathan Franzen’s 10 rules for writing, because nothing deepens a creator’s appreciation for their beloved medium than a set of strict limitations. Well worry not dear parishioners for the good reverend Drew has been to the mountain and he’s come down with his very own commandments for writing.

Screw the Noun, Do the Verb

Austin Kleon once wrote “Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.”

Trust me, introducing yourself as a writer is an invitation for embarrassment until you’ve gotten something published. For every minute you spend talking about your writing you need to spend an hour with your ass in the chair actually doing the work.

Trick yourself into writing

Day jobs can be emotionally exhausting leaving you with only so much creative energy to write with. I’ve found the easiest way to play double duty is to trick myself into thinking I’m not. I do this by taking all the formality out of my process. I make do without a silent writing room, a bottle of wine, or a fixed amount of time.

I’ve tapped out a short story on the bus by convincing myself it was going off the rails so I might as well sputter out with it. After a few edits it turned into something I really liked. I’ve dictated descriptions of creepy environments as I’ve walked through them. I’ve written dialogue on dance floors.

Inspiration doesn’t always strike under controlled conditions. (It does the more you put yourself in the conditions, but you get my point.)

Wait to tell people you’re writing a novel

First drafts are fragile things, especially when you’re laying the foundation. It’s good to be excited about your blueprint, but resist the urge to share that vision too soon. Pitch to the wrong person and that castle you’re building will fall apart like a house of cards.

Try to approach writing a novel like quitting smoking. Don’t tell anyone what you’re doing until you’re too far into the process to turn back. You’ll feel less ashamed if you falter and friends will take you far more seriously if you see it through.

Don’t give anyone other than your editor veto power

I’m a horror author in that I write supernatural fantasies not slasher-centric torture porn. That distinction might seem toothless, but aspects of my subgenre get me into trouble with my politically correct peers. Horror authors are shameless for mining other people’s strongly held religious beliefs for monsters, misrepresenting easily accessible information with a shroud of mysticism. Yeah, we’re probably the reason that Gypsies are still associated with curses, or that nature loving neo pagans are mistaken for devil worshipers, or that Voodoo dolls have anything to do with true Haitian Voodoo. Sorry. Our bad.

As new school horror writer I’m trying to be as progressive as possible. Historically if I felt iffy about an aspect of my stories I’d survey my friends. What I found was that the dismissive blanket term “problematic” came up when people had a bad feeling about a pitch but didn’t know how to put it into words.

Others were better at elaborating what was off about an idea, proposing alternatives and suggesting research avenues for me to pursue. When you ask for people’s opinions it’s on you to critically consider them, just don’t grant everyone veto power over your writing or you won’t dare write anything.

There are two types of feedback to consider

The first type is emotionally reactive feedback like, “This is garbage” which tells you nothing. Every pore of the Internet is clogged with emotionally reactive “feedback.” Trolling, name-calling, and dismissive blanket terms are the kinds of feedback worth ignoring.

Feedback worth considering comes in a longer form from people with the credentials to recognize what you were going for and the know how to fix it. It’s constructive.

Recycle your darlings

You’ve heard the phrase, “Kill your darlings.” As an editor you’ve got to be merciless, gutting your some of your favorite b-plots to keep the a-plot flowing. That said, don’t just highlight and hit DELETE, not when it’s an entire subplot that’s got to go. COPY and PASTE that into another document so that one day it may be recycled into something else.

Repurpose your fanfiction into original works

Face it. As an unknown author no one is going to license shit to. Mulder and Scully won’t be yours to order around. The mayor of Silent Hill isn’t giving you the keys to the city, and a new Highlandermovie is already in development rendering your fanfiction irrelevant.

It’s fun to fantasize in established universes because all the world-building and characterization has been done for you. All you have to do is come up with the situation. If you find yourself visiting someone else’s intellectual property in your mind I urge you to transpose your original situations into something that’s yours to copyright.

E.L. James did it with her Twilight fanfiction and look where that got here. (Not my favorite example, but it’s the first one that comes to mind.)

Be mindful of your soundtrack

Orchestral film scores that are too emotionally engaging have a way of tricking me into thinking I’m writing more effective scenes than I am. My hero’s emotional revelation might seem melodramatic without the soundtrack.

Find a soundtrack that leaves room for your imagination. I like dark wave synthesizer film scores and noir piano jazz.  Both genres fit the tone of my writing and both are slow and repetitive enough to fade into the background when I need them to.

Creating the perfect playlist can devolve into another distraction from your writing. Case in point: the playlist for my first novel is a nonstop month of instrumental music. These days I usually go to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s Spotify page and hit PLAY.

Hold something back

I feed too much of my art into the gapping maw of the Internet with its insatiable appetite for fresh content. I want people to check out my books, but I’ve found the only way to get them to look in my direction is to post something on the blog. Sometimes that’s an on brand article and sometimes it’s a short story I probably should’ve sold to somebody. I’ve given too much of myself away for the short-term benefit of a few measly clicks.

It’s gratifying to get an immediate reaction from something you’ve written. Try finding that gratification offline. Find a writer’s workshop or pass printed copies to friends.

Your writing should be a collaboration with your readers

Leave room in every story for your reader to make a contribution. You don’t need to play costume designer by describing every stitch of clothing on your characters. Give a partial description, like an idea of the character’s fashion sense. Leave it to the reader to choose the garments. Describe your settings to a point, but leave some abstractions for readers to fill in. You can describe the look on a character’s face without explaining the meaning behind each micro expression.

If your writing is entertaining readers will want to suss out the subtext and add their own meaning. So let them. Continue reading Drew Chial’s 10 Rules for Writing

A Hell of a Night: An Excerpt from HE HAS MANY NAMES

Here’s another sample from my book HE HAS MANY NAMES available now!

Our hero Noelle has one month to ghostwrite a novel in a creepy hotel where her benefactor claims to have encountered a demon. Noelle is skeptical, but strange things keep happening…

•••

I was pacing the 19th floor at three in the morning. I was more than a little tipsy. To make matters worse, the light fixtures had started flickering. This hall was where I did the bulk of my thinking, writing, and verbal processing since I’d checked in. Something had to be done.

I decided to place a call to the front desk. I dug my phone out of my pullover. The voice memo application was still running from God knows when. A little waveform trailed across the screen. In the upper right corner I saw that my battery was at 10%.

Then the screen blinked off, and I heard a screech, like someone pushing furniture across a hardwood floor, followed by a crash and a door creaking open.

I checked the rooms. The suites with the vampire bat knocker, the wolf, the octopus, and mine were all shut.

A dozen ice cubes scattered across the floor. The icemaker tilted forward and spat out another mouthful of blocks and fell on its face. The condom dispenser, behind it, stood diagonal from the wall. There was a tall black door where the dispenser had been. The top of the door was adorned with a carving of three figures, holding hands, pointing downward.

What kind of hotel puts a condom dispenser in front of a door? The Oralia, of course.

I approached with caution. By the time I stepped onto the tiles the ice cubes had started melting. Water seeped into my cat slippers while I was busy examining the scene.

This new door had a knocker in the same place as the others. It featured a figure sitting atop the big brass ring with his fist to his chin. It took a moment to recognize Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker.

I moved closer and the other engravings revealed themselves as well. At first I thought they were simple floral designs, until I shifted my footing and a glare caught the finish—naked figures jumped out of the woodwork, twisted, writhing, and anguished, a collage of biceps, buttocks, and breasts. Each carving looked like it had melted into position, a liquid orgy of delight and despair.

The lights flickered and the figures seemed to crawl over each other. I jumped back and they vanished back into the varnish. I was too tipsy to trust what I was seeing.

I squeezed my eyes shut, raised my palms, and inhaled; I lowered my palms, exhaled, and opened my eyes. The Thinker watched me from the knocker waiting for me to make my move.

My curiosity got the better of me. I took the ring and knocked three times. Each hit echoed into the distance. When the last fell silent the door opened.

I stepped through the entryway to find not carpeting but cold stones. I felt the wall for a light switch and found more stones. I dared to announce my presence. “Hello?”

The door swung shut behind me and there was a clicking not far from where I stood.

I froze a few steps from the archway. Behind me was only darkness. Ahead was the crackling of a flame drawing me into the room. I followed the light toward the bedroom, taking in my surroundings as I went. The furnishings were made up of inquisition era torture devices: Catherine wheels, Judas Cradles, and Iron Maidens. Cat o’ nine tails, riding crops, and stocks were scattered on the floor while the walls were lined with shackles.

Something about that flame beckoned me. I followed the light to a pair of torches mounted to an archway. Standing at the threshold a breeze hit me harder than anything I expected from any bedroom.

I stepped through the archway and entered a cathedral so grand there was no way it fit inside the city, let alone the 19th floor of the Oralia. Torches ran from the floor to the dome of the ceiling. Firelights went so far off into the distance they seemed like constellations.

Each torch sat in the eye socket of a slick red skull. The skulls were stacked higher than any catacomb, and held together with a mortar of musculature and organs.

Support beams marked each of the columns. They looked like thighbones, with curved bodies and rounded joints, but they were longer than anything on the fossil record, longer than canoes, longer than limousines.

The vestibule was a cobblestone platform the size of a tennis court. Beyond that were steps so wide and so deep they could’ve been coliseum seats. They led to a swirling volcanic cauldron at the heart of the cathedral.

Tall flowing banners hung from the walls. Light danced down their fabric revealing a patchwork of hair, veins, and nipples. The banners were made from human flesh, flesh that had been branded with a ghastly coat of arms. I couldn’t help but examine the nearest banner. There was a rendering of Adam and Eve, naked as the day they were made, shackled to a shield, topped with a crown of horns, framed with raven wings. Upon the shield were the beasts of the sea and the dragon of the earth as described in Revelations.

The worst part of the cathedral was the cages hanging from the ceiling like a colony of bats, some were filled with people I’d known: producers I’d pitched to, agents I’d tried to court, and screenwriters who’d vanished.

I inched toward the stairway that went around the cathedral. Something was happening at the bottom. Lava shot up like a glowing orange geyser and all the cages rattled.

There was a pulsing hum, whoosh whoosh whoosh, followed by a series of sharp metallic clinks like an aircraft carrier haling up an anchor. Something terrible was swimming in that fire.

And then it emerged: a hulking titan with four giant batwings. At first I thought it was covered in boils, big white puss filled sacks, but then the boils squinted and I realized I was looking at eyeballs.

The titan’s head was a lopsided jumble with the profiles of beasts in place of his ears. The fangs of a lion roared out of his left side, while the snout of a bull flared out from his right. The grimace facing forward was human, as human as a chiseled brick could get. I tried to read his face, but despite his size, the titan was so far away it was hard to make out his expression.

This was the entity Ezekiel described in the bible: a Seraph of the highest order of angels, one of the Cherubim corrupted by his fall. This was no mere Devil. This was Satan.

Something told me not to look him in the eyes so I shifted my gaze to the ceiling. The cages started rattling. The captives went into violent convulsions. Their backs stiffened, their legs jutted out, and their toes pointed straight down. The prisoners gripped their bars as electricity surged through them. They gritted their teeth until their eyes rolled back and their jaws went slack. Light burst from their eye-sockets, nostrils, and mouths.

The prisoners sat up in a uniform position. “COME CLOSER.” They spoke as one, a congregation echoing a sermon.

“I can hear you just fine up here.”

“CLOSER.”

Thunder boomed. The floor quaked. The platform tilted downward. I looked for the archway, but it was high above me now. I could already feel a pull toward the cauldron. I fell back desperately trying to lower my center of gravity. I dug my heels into the gaps, but my slippers offered no traction and I lost my footing.

From the edge of the platform all the way to the pit, the steps fell like dominos. The coliseum transformed into a mile-long ramp. When the platform tilted I slid fast. The traction peeled my sweatpants up to my knees. The stones scraped my calves, chaffed my thighs, and battered my ass. They struck my tailbone, every column of my spine, and slammed into the back of my skull.

Satan’s caged congregation followed my movements. I fell so fast their eyes passed like comets.

I looked down into the cauldron. Satan’s wheels lowered into the lava, making it swirl and bubble. He waded in to meet me head on. CLOSER. When I neared the pit he opened wide to swallow me whole.

•••

Meet Noelle, a Hollywood transplant that’s been subsisting on instant ramen and false hope. She’s on the verge of moving back into her mother’s trailer when her agent convinces her to take a meeting at the Oralia Hotel. Enchanted by the art deco atmosphere Noelle signs a contract without reading the fine print.

Now she has one month to pen a novel sequestered in a fantasy suite where a hack writer claims he had an unholy encounter. With whom you ask? Well, he has many names: Louis Cypher, Bill Z. Bub, Kel Diablo. The Devil.

Noelle is skeptical, until she’s awoken by a shadow figure with a taste for souls.

Desperate to make it Noelle stays on, shifting the focus of her story to these encounters. Her investigations take her through the forth wall and back again until she’s blurred the line between reality and what’s written. Is there a Satanic conspiracy, is it a desperate author’s insanity, or something else entirely?

Pick up HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

The Satanic Temple is threatening to sue Netflix over The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina’s use of a monument to Baphomet that looks strikingly similar to theirs.

Occult author Eliphas Levi illustrated the classic Sabbatic Goat depiction of Baphomet. For their monument The Satanic Temple removed the breasts and added a pair of admiring children. The sculpture on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina reflects these alterations.

When the statue was brought to his attention The Satanic Temple’s co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves said, ”Having one’s central icon associated with human sacrifice in an evil patriarchal cult is hardly good exposure and hardly a frivolous complaint. Fighting this bullshit is the heart of the cause. Not only does it contradict what Baphomet represents, we owe it to those who identify with us to not allow this image, and by extension them, to be represented in this way.”

While The Satanic Temple’s copyright complaint has grounds, the rest of their statement on The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais flawed and as a horror writer I’ll explain why.

A Little History

In 2014, The Satanic Temple crowd sourced a sculpture of Baphomet in response to Ten Commandments Monument at Oklahoma’s State Capital. Attendees had to sell their souls to get a ticket, which organizers said was to drive away the truly superstitious. The Satanic Temple’s aim wasn’t to honor an actual demonic entity, but to protest the values State Representative Mike Ritze was imposing upon them. The unveiling ceremony was a cheeky act of civil disobedience. Clever pranksters shined a national spotlight on a divisive issue and both monuments have since been removed.

In case it wasn’t obvious: The Satanic Temple does not believe in a literal Satan who comes when summoned. They see that predatory lender who cashes in on souls as a fictional character. They use Satan’s likeness as an act of protest from religious encroachment. They’re trying to rebrand the devil as a symbol of rational dissent.

Writing about this I am deeply conflicted. I’m skeptical of the supernatural. I don’t like when people turn their spiritual beliefs into public policy, and I’ve participated and even lead satirical protests myself.

But as a horror writer I take issue with The Satanic Temple claiming ownership of Baphomet and by extension Satan as fictional characters. Who are they to dictate how writers get to use Satan, especially since they’re coopting him as a tool for their satire?

Imagine if demonstrators dressed as vampires to protest rising temperatures. It would be good for laugh, but no one would take the vampires seriously if they turned around and criticized Castlevaniaon Netflix cartoon for its depiction of Dracula. Get the fuck out of here. You don’t own Dracula.

Back to Sabrina

Perhaps these threats of litigation against Netflix are continuations of The Satanic Temple’s one note joke. If that’s the case it’s just not that funny. Protesting ten commandment monuments on government land feels like punching upward. Protesting a TV show that plays with demon mythology to tell a story of female empowerment feels like punching sideways.

If most practicing Satanists don’t believe in the occult then how woke do stories about Satanic blood orgies really need to be? If you think The Satanic Temple is insincere in their belief in the Satanic pantheon than who are they to dictate who gets to play with it in fiction? In The Chilling Adventures of SabrinaSabrina isn’t a member of The Satanic Temple or The Church of Satan. She’s a member of The Church of Night. Lucien Greaves accurately pointed out that The Church of Night is patriarchal and barbaric, because of course it is, Sabrina needed something to struggle with. Give the audience some credit. Even devoutly religious viewers know that The Church of Night doesn’t exist.

You Can’t Own the Devil

If you appropriate an image of Baphomet from an occultist and rebrand the character as an icon of skeptical enlightenment, you don’t get to be pissed off if a storyteller re-appropriates Baphomet as a symbol of the occult. You may own the sculpture, but you don’t own the character.

In the demand letter sent to Netflix the lawyer for the Satanic Temple claims, “My client is struggling to overcome centuries of stigma surrounding their religious symbolism.”

Let me unpack that for a moment. The devil in bible is not depicted as a goat-legged faun like the statue of Baphomet. He’s said to be a Cherubim, a class of angel with four wings, four hands, and four heads covered head to toe in eyeballs.

Satan became a faun when early Christians took issue with the popularity of idols made to the Greek God Pan. They appropriated Pan’s likeness into their devil, who was then appropriated by Eliphas Levi into his Sabbatic Goat illustration, who was then appropriated by The Satanic Temple into their statue of Baphomet, who was then appropriated by The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinafor a fun little show about witches. Centuries of stigma surrounding your religious symbolism? More like centuries of stealing.

I think everyone owes the Greek God Pan some royalties.

Also, no, The Satanic Temple isn’t centuries old. It was founded in 2012. The Church of Satan, which has rebuked The Satanic Temple, was founded by Anton Szandor LaVey in 1966. People have been accused of being Satanists for centuries, yes, but people didn’t start claiming to be until very recently.

Not a Place I Expected to Find Political Correctness

As amusing as I’ve found The Satanic Temple’s protests it irks me to see an organization that stands out as the antithesis of political correctness try to weaponize political correctness to its advantage.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter. You didn’t get into Satanism because you were sensitive. Part of the appeal of claiming Satan is getting a rise out of people, especially when you’re driving them batty over something you yourself don’t believe.

All of this ink on The Satanic Temple’s lawsuit reads like click bait signal boosting from entertainers clamoring to stay relevant. You don’t get to cry religious persecution if you don’t buy into your own dogma. That’s some major league false equivalency bullshit.

Satanic Panic? Please

One of the reasons The Satanic Temple says it takes issue with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinais how it fans the flames of Satanic Panic. I’d argue the show is far too playful to be taken as a serious representation of any strongly held religious belief system.

I’ve written articles that openly debate whether or not horror writers have any responsibilities when it comes to fanning the flames of superstition, but I strongly doubt we’ll see another wave of Satanic Panic as a result of this or American Horror Story: Apocalypse.

TV pundits aren’t talking about backwards messages in heavy metal records. Geraldo Rivera isn’t harassing Ozzy Osbourne anymore.

Few people even remember Dr. Demento’s harrowing expose on the ritual magic of Dungeons and Dragons.

“Michelle Remembers” has been out of print for a long time. No one is recovering suppressed memories of their imagined cultist upbringing. No is claiming there are mass graves on the outskirts of town.

Horror movies are en vogue again. Harry Potter protests are done and guess what? Harry Potter won.

Satanic Panic is over.

Magus Peter H. Gilmore from The Church of Satan (again, not to be confused with The Satanic Temple) refers to devil worshipers’ newfound prominence in films like The Witchand Hereditaryas a sign of “Satanic Unease,” a symptom of the toxic tribalism in all of our escalating divisions. That’s not a bad diagnosis, but I think its really just Satanic Cynicism.

I doubt any of these screenwriters think practitioners of black magic really exist, so they lump all Satanists together and treat them like any other horror trend. It was zombies and vampires last year. Now its Satanic witches (who bear no real resemblance to true Satanists or Neo-Pagan Wiccans). Soon when all the tides start rising it will be Lovecraftian ocean people with gills (oh wait, that’s already a thing).

I Too Have Appropriated Satan, Come At Me Bro

My book He Has Many Names explores the modern devil, from the few times he takes the stage in the bible, how he got his horns, and what fueled the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Neither The Church of Satan or The Satanic Temple have so much as a walk on role, because the story isn’t about Satanism. It’s about how Satan became a trope in fiction. The protagonist is a writer exploring Satan’s origins only to face a brand new mythology of my own design, and I’ll be damned if I owed anyone any royalties. Continue reading On Sabrina the Satanic Temple and Who Owns the Devil

Post Halloween Depression

It’s early November in Minnesota and they’re draping tinsel around the light poles. Shop windows are full of Christmas trees and holiday ballads are following me from sliding door to sliding door.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like commerce everywhere you go.”

Bah Humbug to sweater season. Bah Humbug to politically polarizing Thanksgiving conversations. Bah Humbug to daylight savings ending. Bah Humbug to dusk at 4 PM. Bah Humbug to seasonal depression. I already miss Halloween.

WHY I CLING TO HALLOWEEN

Every October I watch my favorite Twilight Zone episodes, I riffle through The X-Files, explore The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror, and host a horror movie marathon for one. Every November I try to keep that party going, to keep myself in the headspace of Halloween, to self medicate with macbre media. My calendar has 62 days of October. My cat continues to paw at the skeleton decorations, while I attempt to treat myself with black light therapy. It’s a hard thing to reason with seasonal depression when you late it settle in, which is why I’m stalling.

Any shrink worth their salt will tell you that it’s important to have something to look forward to. October had me conjuring up costumes for parties. That’s right “parties,” plural. I’m a man in my thirties who prepared multiple outfits for Halloween week. You may call that immaturity. I call it therapy.

Now I need to come up with a new short-term creatively engaging obsession without the seasonally appropriate community reinforcement. It’s always a challenge. One November I tried to start an alternate reality game. Another I recorded an audiobook. I think this year I’m going to try blog hopping and see where that takes me.

Still that’ll another variation of doing the same thing expecting something different to happen.

I stock up on projects every winter, but it’s a challenge to make time for creative endeavors when my schedule narrows to work and self-care. Suddenly it’s hard to write when so much of my creative energy is spent on personal upkeep.

DARK TIMES AHEAD

Every fall the days get shorter then we wind the clocks back, because we’re in one of the countries that does that. It isn’t that the darkness makes me sleepy (the production of melatonin doesn’t help) it’s that it makes me feel okay about unwinding when I should be writing. It gives me permission to be a couch potato longer than I would if I saw the sun. It makes multi-slacking with a videogame on one screen and Netflix on the other seem like valid use of my time.

There’s debate in the scientific community about whether or not sunlight impacts mood or if Seasonal Affective Disorder is even a real thing. Well I don’t need to be a virologist to know that cabin fever is real. I don’t need to be an epidemiologist to know those of us living in quarantine for the holidays are in for a bad time. I don’t need to see if restless head syndrome has made it into the DSM-5 to know when I have it.

WHY NOVEMBER IS A TOUGH TIME TO BE A WRITER

I take an annual emotional hit just after Halloween. As a horror author Halloween is my peak creative season. It’s when I’m at my most prolific, sharing short fiction and observations of the genre to a hungry audience, but every year my blog traffic plummets come November 1stand I, in turn, hit writer’s block hard (checkout the scarcity of my previous November blog entries).

Celebrations of horror and fantasy cease on social media. The childlike spirit of Halloween gives way to harsh tone of our political landscape. I go from feeling like I’m free to wander the streets with my horns uncovered to feeling a need to hang my strange obsessions in the closet for another year.

To make matters worse this is when most writers start participating in National Novel Writing Month, posting their word counts to social media like unbeatable high scores. Despite the inherent introversion that comes with our craft we writers our social animals. We can’t help but compare how our efforts to those of others.

THE HOLIDAYS DON’T HELP

Jack Frost is knocking and he has a choir of intrusive thoughts behind him.

“Shouldn’t you be getting the perfect someone the perfect something? Shouldn’t you two be drinking cedar by the fire? You don’t want to be a spectator on New Years Eve, do you?”

Yeah yeah yeah. I’ve heard this song before. Bah Humbug to all that noise. All I want for Christmas is the freedom to opt out.

This has nothing to do with any ill will towards the holiday itself. That I’ve always loved. It just sucks to being alone during a time of togetherness and this modern era really has a way of rubbing it in. There’s that social comparison phenomenon rearing its ugly head again.

I’ve lived with people who’ve scrolled through their Facebook feed openly resenting their graduating classmates for having kids before them. I’m not the guy that grits his teeth at cheery Christmas photos, but I must confess they do have a cumulative effect.

EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS

I recognize that I’m thinking aloud, screaming into the void, throwing thoughts into the volcanic mouth of the Internet to see where they land. I’ve been at the edge of this particular cauldron before. This season I need to do something different.

I just had a book published, “He Has Many Names.” I’m exploring ways to get it into more readers’ hands after launch. I’ve written a screenplay based on the first chapter and sent it to someone who manages the local 48-hour film festival. I’d like to have a book trailer in the not too distant future.

As for what I do on this blog, or for that matter what I do with my career, I need to set aside some creative energy to discover something I haven’t tried before. What I’ve been doing has only gotten me so far. I’m happy with my modest success, but I need to knock on some doors and tell my stories to strangers.

HOW DO YOU DEAL?

Hey fellow writers, fellow creatives, fellow human beings in the Northern Hampshire struggling to stay warm at this time of year. How do you cope with these shorter days? What do you do to make sure you’re spending your creative energy appropriately? I really want to know. Continue reading Post Halloween Depression

My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

Horror is enjoying a healthy resurgence from literature to virtual reality gaming. To celebrate the genre’s return to the spotlight I thought I’d list my favorite horror films of 2018 just in time for Halloween.

Halloween 2018

I’ll go to bat for this movie despite some gripes hardcore fans have had with some of the decisions. I’ve heard the nitpicking about the high school dance sequence (that lasts all of say five minutes) or the peanut butter sandwich banter between police officers (that takes thirty some seconds of running time). No, those scenes aren’t essential, and yes, I know, one character has a silly twist with b-movie motivations, but I was fine with all of it, and I’m the guy who hates the concept of these de-booted sequels.

Jamie Lee Curtis made this one work for me. I loved her as a hyper vigilante survivor shtick. I liked watching the hunted finally become the hunter. It gave the audience someone to root for.

John Carpenter’s moody synthesizer score was worth the price of admission. In fact, I’m writing with it on right now.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of the 3 Halloween 2movies you’re ever going to see.”

Pyewacket

It sucks when your dad dies and your mom makes you move out into the woods in the middle of your Junior year, especially when she shames you for your newfound interest in the occult. Why not summon a demon to get rid of her? Okay, that shadow figure leering at you from its perch on your wall is giving you black-magic-buyer’s-remorse. So now how do you stop this Satanic assassin from completing it’s mission? That’s the plot of Pyewacketa slow burning supernatural thriller with a tense atmosphere and one hell of pay off.

Worth it for The X-Files andThe Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden’s deliciously wicked performance as the mother.

Back of the Box Quote: “In the case of A Well-Told Story Versus Jump Scaresmay I present Exhibit A.”

The Endless

At the risk of being called a self-plagiarist I’m going to quote my previous summary for this movie.

“It’s the story of two brothers visiting the cult they’ve escaped from to find the commune stuck in a sentient pocket dimension hell-bent on claiming them too. A coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

If you’re looking for a cerebral horror experience more in the spirit of The Twilight Zonethan the Sawfilms then look no further.

Back of the Box Quote: The Wicker Manmeets Groundhogs Day.”

Apostle

When a former missionary learns his sister has been abducted by a cult on an island he goes undercover as a devout believer to save her. It isn’t long before the missionary encounters the island’s blood god leading to a series of brutal encounters that end up feeding the deity’s unholy appetite.

From Gareth Evans, the action auteur behind The Raidmovies, comes a folk horror story in the spirit of The Wicker Man, The Wicker Tree, and Jug Face.

AfterThe Guest, and Legionthis is yet another reason why Dan Stevens is becoming one of my favorite actors.

Back of the Box Quote: “The Apostle may look Satanic on the Surface but it’s Lovecraftian at its core.”

A Quiet Place

When the world is overrun with monsters with super hearing one rural family struggles to tiptoe through their daily lives.

When I had heard that A Quiet Placehad almost been retooled into a Cloverfieldsequel I couldn’t help but imagine it taking place during the same alien invasion as 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Back of the Box Quote: “The best version of Cloverfield 3 you’re likely going to see.”

Ghost Stories

A paranormal investigator makes his living debunking hauntings, until an associate challenges him to investigate three cases that have brought him to the brink of madness.

Ghost Storiesis based on a stage play and its clever dialogue and dark humor translates well to film thanks to performances by Andy Nyman and Martin Freeman. The over arching narrative makes this one of the better horror anthologies.

Back of the Box Quote: “Ah the subtle whit of British horror.”

Mandy

When a Manson-esque cult murders the love of his life Nick Cage forges a battleax and chops a red path through a surreal forest landscape.

Mandyhas proven divisive amongst horror fans. This isn’t an instance of if you didn’t like it then you didn’t get it. Odds are you got it and it just left a bad taste in your mouth. The dialogue is sparse. The plot is a razor a thin revenge tale, but the tone and atmosphere elevates the material to something special.

Mandytakes place in a heightened reality where the sun shines purple and there are planets on the horizon. There are spontaneous Heavy Metalinspired animations, a magic whistle that summons a Cenobite biker gang, a throbbing synth wave soundtrack, and neon triangles everywhere.

If you liked the aesthetic of director Panos Cosmatos’s previous film Beyond the Black Rainbow you’ll love this.

Back of the Box Quote: “Heavy metal album cover art: the movie.”

Upgrade

A gang guns down a mechanic and his girlfriend under mysterious circumstances. The mechanic wakes up paralyzed from the neck down. One of the mechanic’s clients offers to install a prototype microchip in the back of his neck so that he might walk again. Soon the mechanic learns the microchip is a sentient A.I. with the know how to help him exact revenge on the gang that wronged him (the same crew that attacked Nick Cage, in MandyEric Draven, in The Crowand John Wick’s dog, or they might as well be).

The first thing I said to a friend after I saw this was. “I just saw the new Venommovie months before it even comes out. It was called Upgradeand it was awesome.”

Upgradeis Venomif you swap the alien symbiote with an artificial intelligence implant with kung-fu skills instead of oily appendages. It even stars a Tom Hardy lookalike in Logan Marshall-Green.

Now I know this sounds like science fiction but it made my horror list for fleeting moments of extreme splatter-punk violence.

Back of the Box Quote: “A better Venommovie than the actual Venommovie.”

Hereditary

Hereditary is the story of a grief stricken mother whose situation only gets worse when she tries channeling her dead loved ones.

At the time of this writing Hereditaryhas an 89% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a D+ from audiences on CinemaScore. So why is there so much disconnect between critics and moviegoers on this one? I think it has everything to do with A24’s marketing campaign. This isn’t The Conjuring 3, if you go in expecting a jump scare a minute you’re going to be disappointed, and yet Hereditarygets far more terrifying thanThe Conjuringmovies would dare to be as it drags viewers into a pitch-black nihilistic oblivion.

Something happens a half an hour into this movie that had people getting up and walking out of the theater. This is not a crowd pleaser. It’s not a date movie (unless you’re looking to end the relationship). This is the mean spirited feel bad film of the year. It’s not exhilarating. It’s unnerving. It’s not thrilling. It is genuinely upsetting.

So why would I put this so high on my list? Well, it takes A LOT to scare me, me a horror writer, and this film did. I enjoy The Conjuringand Insidiousmovies. I get a few quick jolts in the moment when I watch them, but there are images in the last twenty minutes of Hereditary that will stick with me forever.

You may have heard this film described as a “slow burn” well that slow burn escalates into a bonfire very quickly.

Back of the Box Quote: “Hey Rosemary’s baby. Hold my beer.”

All of The Haunting of Hill House Season 1

To quote my previous article endorsing the show:

The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family through multiple timelines, telling a story in the order of its mysteries. The flashbacks take place in the 90s when they spent a summer trying to flip the house. Early on we learn the father drove off with his children in the middle of the night after their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Now the family is fractured, spread throughout the country, and haunted, some literally.

What did you think I was going to give this spot to: The Nun, Truth or Dare, Slenderman?Nope, nope, and double nope. I don’t care that this technically isn’t a movie. It’s a complete story with a beginning middle and end.

The latest season of Stanger Things has been delayed until 2019. I’d argue that The Haunting of Hill House deserves to be 2018’s pop culture phenomenon.

What makes this show so special? Let me count the ways: ghosts hidden in plain sight, an episode shot in 5 choreographed long takes, CNN claiming viewers are fainting and vomiting from fright. The Haunting of Hill House has everything.

Back of the Box Quote: “Come for the scares. Stay for the brilliantly acted heartfelt family drama.”

Honorable mentions:

Summer of 84

A gang of plucky fun-loving tweens investigate a serial killer.

Summer of 84showed up to the nostalgia party in the same dressas Strangers Thingsand It, yet it wears it with flair. The first two acts lull you into a false sense of Spielbergian adventure before things get very dark.

Back of the Box Quote: “A fun upbeat coming of age serial killer thriller.”

Annihilation

A group of all-female scientists investigate the mysterious Area X, a reality-warping dome of energy that has claimed the lives of several teams before them.

Having read the Southern Reach trilogy I can say that Annihilationis an adaptation in concept only. Writer/Director Alex Garland took an abstract bizarro premise and distilled it into an observation on relationships, marriage, and the secrets couples keep.

While it might look like science fiction on the surface the nature of Area X gives way to true Cronenbergian body horror.

Back of the Box Quote: “A film that dares to explore the cosmic horror of relationships.”

The Ritual

Four mates, grieving the untimely death of their friend, take a hike through a haunted forest that turns their grief against them. Cabin filled with occult imagery? Check. Blink and you’ll miss it monster sightings? Check. Over-the-top bombastic finale framed in fire? Check.

Back of the Box Quote: “You don’t truly know your friends until you’re all being stalked by a shape-shifting demi-god.”

Cargo

Giving a child up for adoption is never easy, especially not after you’ve contracted super rabies in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Back of the Box Quote: “Martin Freeman stars in The Walking Deadmeets Children of Men.

Gerald’s Game

An older couple tries to spice up their marriage with a little bondage. What’s the worst that could happen? Well, the husband could drop dead from a heart attack, leaving the wife tied up in an isolated lake house with wolves scratching at her door. This is Mike Flangan’s second appearance on this list. This technically came out in 2017, but I just saw it.

This is one of those horror stories that does a lot with a confined space, thanks in no small part to brilliant performances by Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood.

Back of the Box Quote: “How to talk your partner out of experimenting with bondage tonight.”

1922

When a farmer conspires with his son to murder his wife a curse consumes both their lives.

This is a near word for word adaptation of the story from Stephen King’s “Full Dark, No Stars” collection. It’s the perfect rat infested southern gothic ghost story.

Movies I wish I’d Seen this Year

Shamefully I have yet to see The Devil’s Doorway,Unsaneor Revengedespite everything I’ve heard about them.

I also imagine Suspiria, Overlordwould make this list if they were out yet, but alas I must wait. Continue reading My Top 10 Horror Films of 2018

HE HAS MANY NAMES is out today!

My horror debut HE HAS MANY NAMES is finally here! If you’re looking for genre bending meta-storytelling nightmare fuel then you’ve come to the right place, but don’t take my word for it.

“I’m bummed. I just finished @DrewChial’s latest, “He Has Many Names.” I HATE finishing a great book!”

– Daniel Knauf, creator of Carnivàle, writer/producer of The Blacklist and Dracula.

“Drew Chial is the tour guide into your unnatural slide into the abyss. One weird ride that keeps gaining steam.”

-Keith Lansdale, comic writer for The X-Files: Case Files, Crawling Sky

“A love letter to Stephen King and Satan from a new an exciting voice in horror.”

– Christoph Paul, author of Horror Film Poems.

“If Clive Barker and Brian Keene wrote a book in one creepy ass hotel.”

– Jeff Burk, Head Editor of Deadite Press

HE HAS MANY NAMES

Submitted for your approval: a desperate writer and a sketchy publisher meet in a seedy hotel. Noelle, the hero of our little drama, represents our collective aspirations for artistic accomplishment. Matilda, the publisher, represents Barkley Carver, a hack fraud who hasn’t written any of the bestsellers bearing his brand. Matilda wants Noelle to stay in a room where Barkley claims he saw a demon. She’s certain Noelle is the perfect person to churn out a potboiler based on Barkley’s experience.

Noelle heads for the elevator with a smirk on her face and a stride in her step, blissfully unaware of what awaits her on the 19thfloor.

We invite you to check into the Oralia Hotel, a place where the paparazzi fly drones over balconies, where fantasy suites come alive, and the door to hell manifests behind the condom dispenser. A place where DO NOT DISTURB signs won’t protect you from our brand of turndown service, where torch-lit domes, volcanic caldrons, and hanging cages are part of the décor, and the line between nightmares and reality is forever blurred.

Read the first chapter here.

Check out this video excerpt.

Buy HE HAS MANY NAMES right here!

Getting Lit with Leza: Drew Chial Interview

Here’s a link to an interview I did for the Get Lit with Leza podcast.

As an interviewer Leza has a talent for drawing out honed artistic statements and intimate details from her guests. She effortlessly navigates the professional, the personal, and in this case the paranormal.

We discuss the sleep paralysis I experienced throughout my childhood, the shadow demons looming at the foot of my bed and how I tried to cry out in terror. I never thought I’d get tipsy and joke about it all these years later. It was strangely fun deconstructing the neuroscience behind waking hallucinations with Leza as we unpacked the archetypes that make our minds see demons. Continue reading Getting Lit with Leza: Drew Chial Interview

Top 5 Reasons You Should Call in Sick and Binge The Haunting of Hill House

Has fall gotten you down? Did your seasonal depression kicked in the moment department stores rolled out their Christmas decorations? Does the overcast make you feel like the days are all bleeding together? Does the sight of a box of week old Cheeze Its on the nightstand at 1PM look like breakfast in bed? Will daylight savings push you further into the arms of madness? Maybe somebody needs a staycation?

Why no spend your mental health days watching The Haunting of Hill House.

The Haunting of Hill House follows the Crain family through multiple timelines, telling a story in the order of its mysteries. The flashbacks take place in the 90s when they spent a summer trying to flip the house. Early on we learn the father drove off with his children in the middle of the night after their mother died under mysterious circumstances. Now the family is fractured, spread throughout the country, and haunted, some literally.

Here 5 reasons why I think you should cast off your personal responsibilities and watch this show.

It is the Where’s Waldo of Haunted House TV Shows

Much like It Follows, Ghost Watch, and Insidious, The Haunting of Hill House trains viewers to scan the shadows for anything out of the ordinary. After episode one you’ll be searching the cellars for silhouettes, analyzing archways for apparitions, and foraging the foreground for faces. While there are plenty of monstrous manifestations and outright jump scares the Hill House’s eeriest entities are hide in plain sight. Pay close attention to every flashback scene, odds are there’s a ghost just standing right over a character’s shoulder.

Screen Rant put together this handy cheat sheet of each ghost sighting throughout the season. Have it loaded up so you can freak out anyone else you’re watching with.

Episode 6 and the Choreographed Long Takes

Episode 6 consists of 5 straight takes with no edits. The longest being the third, which clocks in at around 17 minutes. I’m a huge fan of choreographed long takes whether it’s the opening of The Player, The X-Files episode Beyond the Sea, or that infamous Dare Devil hallway fight sequence. Hitchcockian long takes ratchet up the tension by making scenes feel like they’re happening in the moment.

Long takes are also a great place for in camera magic tricks. Now you see a ghost. Now you don’t. I’m surprised the technique isn’t utilized in horror more often.

Not only does the effect make the scares more jarring it makes the Crain family’s grief more engaging. It makes each cast member’s performance all the more riveting and gives each sequence the intimacy of a stage play. The production was shut down for 6 weeks so the actors could rehearse these scenes and Goddamn it was worth it.

It is a Magnum Opus from a Budding Horror Director

This show has very little to do with the Shirley Jackson novel of the same name. Yes, there’s a haunted house with a huge spiral staircase, but there are no paranormal investigators. Most of this is an original creation by writer director Mike Flanagan who is known for one of the better Stephen King adaptation’s Gerald’s Game, the surprisingly effective prequel Ouija: Origin of Evil, andHush.

Flanagan also directed one of my personal favorite horror films in recent years: Oculus, the story of cursed mirror with the power to distort reality. The Haunting of Hill House shares many of that movies themes and the Lasser Glass, the haunted mirror, happens to be hanging on the wall of the Hill House.

Effective Character Driven Horror

Horror movies only have so much time to fit their scares in. They tend to front load all the characterization to the first act. The Netflix format allows for tough and touching character moments throughout. By giving every of the Crain family member their own episodes we find ourselves invested in the whole family.

In slasher films the characters are often written as annoying despicable people so that the audience will applause their investable evisceration. Here we don’t want to watch any of the characters to meet their end even when we know it’s coming.

It’s A Ghost Story that Respects Skepticism

I hate ghost stories where rational explanations for hauntings aren’t explored. Conversely I hate it when the reality of the haunting is so ambiguous we’re left wondering if anything supernatural happened at all. My favorite ghost stories find a sweet spot between the irrational and the rational. They explore common causes of hallucinations: sleep paralysis, sleeping deprivation, and mental illness. Then they tease out supernatural explanation.

The monster of the week episodes of The X-Files mastered this formula by making a skeptic part of the show. The Haunting of Hill House has its very own Dana Scully in the form of Steven a horror writer and paranormal investigator. Steven is there to acknowledge our intellect before Hill House can sidestep it.

Closing Thoughts

If you’re an actor looking for monologue material then boy do I have a show for you. The moment this show had me came in episode 1 when Mrs. Walker recounted the car accident that took her husband and the subsequent haunting. That long extended close up felt like a mission statement. The Haunting of Hill House set out to tell an emotional character driven story. Its scares are well staged, but they benefit most from how much we care about the survival of its characters. A lesson we horror writers would do well to remember. Continue reading Top 5 Reasons You Should Call in Sick and Binge The Haunting of Hill House