Tag Archives: halloween

A Halloween Carol

It was the Saturday before Halloween and Nathan was walking the edge of his apartment switching on all of the white noise machines. This was his bedtime ritual, but tonight he was tuning the dials early, listening for a tone lower than static and higher than thunder, something in the same range as human speech. The moment he found the right waveform he heard a series of loud percussive booms. Someone was trouncing across the ceiling with stiletto heels on. Nathan had muzzled the party banter, but the floorboards might as well have been made of balsawood.

Nathan threw open the cupboards, the liquor cabinet, and the bathroom mirror. He set a handful of bottles, a cocktail shaker, and an eyedropper on the kitchen counter. His cat, Pazuzu, watched from the refrigerator, a grey gargoyle tallying his master’s sins.

Nathan fixed himself a cocktail of ginger beer, dark rum, Nyquil, and dextromethorphan. He’d dubbed this concoction: a Stephen King-Colada. The blend of depressants and bargain-basement PCP had become a staple of his writing routine. It hadn’t inflated his wordcount so much as it numbed him for keeping count.

Pazuzu backed into the cupboard as Nathan drank the deadly concoction from his skull-shaped mug. The cat knew to keep to the high ground whenever that ceramic cranium was out. Nathan plunked down at the kitchen table, pried his laptop open, and pecked at the keyboard. He typed:

It was a dark and stormy night and a hack horror writer was thinking about giving up on the genre forward, maybe to advance his career, maybe to make first dates a little less awkward. The horror community had met him with cold indifference and now the feeling was mutual.

Nathan sighed. “Bah humbug.”

Then he melted down the chair and into the carpet.

 T.M. COBB

There was a bump in the night, followed by several more. Each one was closer than the rager on the upper floor. Large heavy feet fell across the kitchen table.

Nathan’s torso shot awake while his legs stayed dead asleep. His knees were bent, his feet were at his sides, and his back was flat on the floor. It looked like he’d fallen asleep in the middle of a power slide. The kitchen table creaked as hunched back shadows skulked across the walls. Nathan followed the silhouette certain he’d spot Pazuzu, but then he caught the glint of the cat eyes behind the couch. Pazuzu was retreating, yielding his territory to whatever was huddled atop the table.

Nathan scanned the rim for movement. He saw what seemed like a long sturdy chain, but when it grazed the brim of the table the sound was hallow and plastic. Behind it was a length of jack-o-lantern lights, and a knotted stretch of cobweb.

Nathan couldn’t help but chuckle.

The intruder leapt from the dining room to the coffee table, spun around, and crouched, a prehistoric bird eyeing an early mammal wondering if it were edible. The intruder wore a witch’s hat with horns jutting through the brim. His face was enshrouded in a veil cheesecloth. His cloak was a patchwork of webbing, chains, and rubber limbs. His hands clutched the corner of the table. One featured a Freddy Krueger claw, the other was covered in rubber finger monsters.

Nathan scurried up the chair to find the intruder looming over him from the kitchen table. Beyond the intruder’s veil was a bejeweled masquerade mask and a face dripping with clown makeup.

The intruder lifted Nathan by the collar and raised his veil.

“Boo!”

Nathan squinted, bewildered, but ultimately unphased.

The intruder raised his mask. “You know they say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises are probably psychopaths?”

Now Nathan recognized the intruder. “Thomas Marshall Cobb.”

Cobb raised a corrective finger. “T.M. Cobb, remember. Initials make sales. So sayeth mine publisher of yore.”

Nathan swatted Cobb’s hand away from his collar.

“You’re dead. I know people who went to your funeral.”

“You know them? You couldn’t afford the $160 air fair?”

“I have issues with suicide.”

“Suicide?” Cobb chortled. “Christ, I’m not a poet. I had a heart attack. Is that how they spun it? Did my sales go up?”

Nathan shrugged. “A little. Why do you look like you rolled around in a tub of Hot Topic?”

“Oh this?” Cobb stretched his webbing. “It’s my penance.”

“That doesn’t look so bad.”

“You try taking a dump in this thing.”

“Ghosts have bowel movements?”

T.M. Cobb gave that a long certain nod. “Runny, prickly ones.”

“What’s your diet?”
“Wax syrup sticks, raisins, and rock candy.”

Nathan nodded. That would do it. “So, why are you dressed like a Party City Jacob Marley?”

“Because I betrayed my passions. I gave up on horror and wrote soulless procedural thrillers.”

“And that landed you in Hell?”

T.M. Cobb nodded. “Halloween hell, where all the best parts of the holiday are absent. Where the succubi dress like Horny Helen Keller, Mistress Mother Teresa, and filthy Anna Frank. Where they make you bob for apples in a public urinal and every night we go trick or treating, but the tricks are on us. Have you ever been pelted with a hardboiled egg fired from a potato gun?”

“Can’t say that I have.”

Cobb dropped his trousers, revealing a network of purple welts across his butt cheeks. “These ain’t hemorrhoids.”

Nathan covered his eyes, then his nose.

Cobb buckled back up. “There are no haunted houses, just religious Hell houses where they lecture us on the dangers of vaping grass and premarital petting. There are no scary stories, just Christian comics on the Satanic subtext of the season. Everyone texts via Ouija boards. Everyone travels via hayrides. There’s a drive-in, but the only movie that ever plays is The Exorcist 2. Oh, and I hope you like the Monster Mash, because that shit is running twenty-four seven.”

Nathan shook the opening notes of the tune from his head. “All because you sold out?”

Cobb tilted his head back forth. “I bludgeoned a couple of hitchhikers with a tire iron. I suppose that’s also frowned upon.”

“Why did you do that?”

Cobb threw his hands up. “Why does a writer do anything? For research! I’d lived such nice vanilla life I figured the good lord could toss me a couple freebies. Anyway, I’m here to help you sort your shit out.”

“I’m not too worried about killing hitchhikers. I Uber everywhere.”

“You say that now, but people are fragile. It wouldn’t hurt to score some Karma points while you can.”

Nathan muttered. “I’m pretty sure those dogmas are incompatible.”

Cobb cupped a hand to his ear. “What was that?”

“I said you look like a stay at home dad’s cry for help.”

Cobb swatted Nathan with his claws. Nathan felt his cheek surprised to find blood dripping down on his fingers.

Cobb recoiled at his own handy work. “Whoa! These are plastic. I didn’t think they’d actually cut you. I’ll go get a towel.”

“My cat got me earlier. You just opened the scab again.”

“Why don’t you have paper towels?”

“Why are you here?”

Cobb unspooled a length of toilet paper from his arm and dabbed Nathan’s cheek.

“I had a vision, the last time I was in the toxic trough, bobbing for apples. I saw you turning your back on the horror genre and writing Cozy Mysteries.”

“Cozy Mysteries?”

“They’re like thrillers, but with the stakes way lower. All the violence happens off stage and all the sex is replaced with quant community functions.”

“Like Murder, She Wrote?”

“Exactly like Murder, She Wrote.”

“I knew Angela Lansbury was a bad influence on me.”

“Well, I’ve contracted some entities in the horror community to help steer you back in the right direction. It will be like A Christmas Carol, but not quite as preachy. They’ll show you that there’s still millage in the genre, or you’ll end up like me, or worse.”

“Or worse?”

Cobb nodded, shaken by the thought. “I’ve seen writers in Halloween Hell forced spend eternity dressed as Where’s Waldo.”

“With the red striped shirt and the poof ball hat? But that’s so tacky.”

“I know. That’s why you need to drink the rest of this.” Cobb handed Nathan his half-finished cocktail.

Nathan guzzled it down and went down with it.

THE GHOST OF HORROR PAST

Nathan came to in the middle of a Barnes and Noble as a fleet of sneakers touched down around him. Foot traffic was so congested it phased clean through him. Mothers held their children’s hands as they came around corners. Father’s sucked their guts in as they waited for one another to pass. Children tried to muster the strength to walk with boxsets in their grip.

Nathan teetered to his feet as a train of strollers phased through his torso one by one. Dizzy, Nathan struggled to take in his surroundings. Rolling ladders screeched along their tracks. Book carts creaked through the aisles. Stools scrapped along the carpeting. Everywhere he looked people were reading, riffling through shelves, filling baskets with books.

Nathan examined the endcaps to find a gallery of hand painted horror covers: a procession of black robes, curvy daggers, and tentacles. Reptilian talons rose through the graveyard soil. Porcelain dolls stood at the edge of cribs. Sultry Satanists leaned over cauldrons. Nathan had never seen such a showroom of serpents, skeletons, and flaming pentagrams. He’d gotten used to riffling through Sci Fi/Fantasy shelves for obscure horror titles, but when he rounded the corner he found a horror section that was two isles long.

Nathan reached for a title at random. It read: Confessions of Satanic Cheerleader by Thomas Marshall Cobb. The titular cheerleader had a skull for face, a Red Devils sweater and a pom-pom dripping with blood.

Nathan flipped the book over to find a portrait of Cobb done up like Grandpa Munster: a widow’s peak, caked on makeup, and high collared cape.

“Bet you’ve never seen so many red and black paperbacks in all your life.”

Nathan spun around, but none of the patrons were looking in his direction let alone addressing him.

“Down here. Hep cat.”

Nathan shifted his gaze to a stout little demon with a black beret, red flip shades, and a soul patch.

“You’re not a ghost.”

The demon flipped its shades up. “No day passes for the dead daddy-o. I’m Zazimsberg,  keeper of the infernal archives.”

Nathan was hit with a sudden wave of vertigo. He dropped the paperback in his hand and found himself leaning against the bookshelf.

Zazimsberg scanned Nathan’s eyes. “You still riding the Tussin dragon, son?”

Nathan nodded. “When are we?”

Zazimsberg raised his stubby fingers to the black and red volumes all around him. “This is that glorious era between Rosemary’s Baby and Silence of the Lambs, when gloom-riddled grimoires ruled the nation’s nightmares, when poltergeists and possession kept pages turning, and the supernatural cast a long shadow on the bestsellers list.”

Nathan struggled to maintain his balance as he paced the aisle, scanning the shelves.  “No way.” The horror section was broken into subgenres: Gothic, Cosmic, Supernatural, Psychological, and Slashers. “I can’t believe there was ever this much horror literature.”

“Believe it, syrup head. Back before Netflix, people had either this or the passion pit to get their horror fix.”

“Passion Pit, like the band?”

Zazimsberg snapped his fingers. “Passion pit, pucker palace, pound pagoda…Whatever you call drive-ins these days?”

Nathan scanned his brow. “Cineplex and chill?”

“Well horror was here and there, if you didn’t have anyone to play back seat bingo with this is where you ended up.”

Nathan shook his head as rainbow trails streaked through his vision. “I can’t believe horror was never this popular. I think you’re seeing things through ruby colored glasses?”

“They’re prescription.” Zazimsberg scurried up a rolling ladder and straddled the bookshelf. “Besides this hootenanny is temporary. The horror market is headed for crashville. Once the FBI coins the term: serial killer, a generation of armchair psychologists get hung up on psychopaths. Everyone hip to the supernatural gets seduced by the likes of Hannibal Lecter.”

“Except for Stephen King.”

Zazimsberg rubbed his hands together. “Except for Stephen King. There’s a man who knows his groceries. If you weren’t too Dixie fried on the Dextro, you might noddle this one out for me: why did King survive the horror crash while so many of his peers put an egg in their shoes and beat it?”

Nathan wasn’t sure what decade he was in, but looking at the shelf, Stephen King had already amassed a bewildering bibliography. “King was prolific. He never took a break. His titles were in a perpetual promotion cycle and his brand never went stale.”

Zazimsberg cackled at the ceiling. “Spoken like the mayor of Squaresville. No, King knew people. He gave regular folks something to relate to. Sure, he checked all the genre boxes, wrote his share of dark cellars, but he always made you care about the people who went down there.”

Nathan rubbed his temples. “So characters first, situation second, but what if I’m not much of a people person?”

“You’re going to have to learn to mingle baby, because if people don’t see themselves in your fiction, how are they supposed to get lost in it?”

Nathan nodded, not so much in agreement, but to give himself time to think. “That’s all well and good for you, Bohemian Blasphemy, but what if people don’t feel like talking to me?”

Zazimsberg clasped his sausage fingers together. “Dig this. You ever seen a high class chick with some dumb dopey ape?”

“All the time.”

“Ever wonder how that happened?”

Nathan nodded.

“The ape introduced himself.”

“So what? I should ask a bunch of randos for insights into human condition?”

Zazimsberg pried a book from the top shelf, flung it, and tipped its neighboring titles over. “If you can’t be bothered to care about people, why should they care about your characters?”

“Because they’re in interesting predicaments?” Nathan sidestepped the falling books.

“Like a bug getting its legs pulled off?”

“Sure.”

“Or a cow being tipped off a cliff?” Zazimsberg tipped another row of paperbacks.

“I guess.” The books crashed at Nathan’s feet.

“Or a writer getting belted with hardcovers?”

Nathan looked up right as a big fat art book caught him between the eyes.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN PRESENT

Nathan awoke on the floor of a moonlit corridor. Something tickled the back of his throat. He coughed and watched the particles swirl toward the rafters. Moon beams shone through windows that lined the ceiling. Nathan was in a basement. The dust covers that wrapped the furnishing caught the light, as did the cobwebs stretching from the candelabras, and the suits of armor beneath the tapestries.

“So is this like an Inception thing? Every time I get knocked out I go into a deeper dream layer?”

Nathan’s words echoed off the indifferent checkered tiles.

He wiped the dust from his arms and thighs and pressed on into the dark. “Does this count as R.E.M. sleep or am I going to wake up cranky?”

There were no answers from the corridor.

Nathan hastened his pace as he passed beneath a taxidermy gallery mounted on the wall. He tried to ignore the shadows the antlers cast, but they seemed to stretch.

A breeze wafted through the corridor setting all the furniture skirts aflutter. Goosebumps rose up Nathan’s biceps, his shoulders, and settle upon his neck. A long sheet arose to reveal the source of the cold spot: an open fireplace. The sheet pointed to the Nathan, detached from the wall, and glided over him. In the sheet’s place was a tall elliptical mirror. It had a big baroque frame that was all lion’s paws and golden laurels, like a family crest.

“Alas, a looking glass. I wonder what will happen if I gaze into it?”

Nathan neared the mirror. “So, should I start saying ‘Bloody Marry’ and see where that takes me?”

The mirror already had an answer. There was a silhouette standing beneath a dustsheet. Either it was a trick of the light or of the wind, but the silhouette appeared to be breathing. The goosebumps on Nathan’s neck ran down his arm and settled on his wrist.

He counted on his fingers. “3-2-1,” then spun on his heel.

A figure charged at him with a mallet. “Jump scare!” The figure shouted as she struck a brass gong.

For his part, Nathan didn’t flinch. He nodded, like a disappointed parent.

The Ghost of Horror Present looked to Nathan like a hipster Elvira: straight black bangs, lots of mascara, boots up to her knees, tight jeans, black halter top, and a black denim vest covered in enamel pins.

“They say people who don’t react to loud jarring noises might be psychopaths.”

“I’ve been getting that a lot.”

The Ghost of Horror Present dropped the mallet and gong into a pocket dimension beneath her vest and offered her hand. “Hello Nathan, I’m Leonora, the ghost of Christmas present.”

“You mean Halloween?”
Leonora shrugged. “I’m a millennial. I’ve got a lot side gigs.”

Nathan tried not to stare at Leonora’s chest, but she had more pins than a five-star general. She had the stickman from The Blair Witch Project, Pyramid head from Silent Hill, the killer sphere from Phantasm, and the puzzle box from Hellraiser. She even had the Necronomicon from Evil Deadwith a banner that read: READ BANNED BOOKS.

Curious Nathan turned around and tore the sheet off the figure he’d spotted in the mirror. Sure enough, it was a toned Greek sculpture with a leaf for a loincloth.

“Isn’t this all a little old school for the ghost of Halloween present? I’m surprised I’m not hearing the beat of a telltale heart through the floorboards.”

Leonora spun around appraising their surroundings. “Haven’t you heard? Everything old is new again.”

The back of her vest was a patchwork of portraits of the Universal monsters: the creature from the black lagoon, the phantom of the opera, the bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the mummy, Dracula. There was even a blank one for the invisible man.

Leonora raised her fingerless gloves to the ceiling. “Doesn’t all this Hammer Horror shit give you a nostalgia boner for the supernatural cinema of yore?”

She made a beeline for a buckling strip of wallpaper, got a good grip, and pried it free. Then she skipped over a row of shattered tiles, kicked one loose, and claimed it from the floor. She curled her hand back, spun, and hurled it like a discuss. It shattered a window.

Leonora pointed to her handywork. “Look at that matte painted moon and tell me you don’t want to write some shit about an ancient acropolis.”

Nathan looked toward the impossibly large lunar surface filling the window frame then back to Leonora to find she’d disappeared. “Alright Bat Woman.” He sighed, checked his watch, and counted on his fingers. “3-2-1…”

When he turned Leonora hit him with an airhorn. “Jump scare!”

Nathan didn’t jump so much as wince. A pendulum of hair fell into his brow and he took a moment to slick it back up. “I’m not going to lie. I’m digging on this atmosphere, but how’s a horror write supposed to carve out his niche when he’s stealing from the past?”

Leonora laid on her airhorn. “Re-re-remix!” Lightning flashed, confetti shot out in all directions, and plumes of smoke spewed into the room.

When Nathan looked back Leonora was at a turntable. She held a pair of headphones with one hand and worked the knobs with the other.

A dubstep drop, blew the dustcovers off a pair of monolithic speakers.

Leonora shouted. “You take the classics, play with people’s expectations, and put your own spin on them.”

Nathan could just make out the melody for Toccata and Fugue in D minorburied beneath a flurry of distorted bass tones. He plugged his ears. A flurry of shadows sped across the windows. Cracks spread throughout the ceiling. The chandelier shook, plunged toward the floor, and snagged on its chain.

Leonora pumped her fists to the beat. Lasers converged upon a mirror ball Nathan hadn’t noticed until then. Bats flew through the window, swarmed the speakers, and formed a pair of big brown tornados.

Nathan cupped his hands around his mouth. “It seems like we could do better than just adding a bunch of…”

Silence.

“…Jump scares”

Leonora had disappeared. So too had the commotion.

Nathan scanned the corridor for movement, then the furniture and the shadows beneath it. The support beams creaked. The house settled. An eerie wind blew through the window. Nathan cocked his ear toward the sound and raised a finger until he heard a wolf howling in the distance. “There it is.” He took the opportunity to roll his shoulders and stretch his forearms across his chest.

Nathan creaked his neck, cracked his knuckles, and counted down. “3…2…1…”

Nothing.

He shut his eyes, counted on his fingers, and braced himself, but still nothing.

“Alright Leonora. This is not my first rodeo.” He scanned his surroundings. “We already did the mirror thing, and the silhouettes beneath the dust covers. That just leaves…No. You wouldn’t be that tacky.”

Nathan turned to the suits of armor. One suit was not like the others. It was wielding its great sword high above its head, frozen in the middle of a killing stroke. Nathan neared the suit until he was standing beneath the blade’s trajectory.

“I’m going to assume this is like velociraptors. If one of you is in front of me then another is—”

“Jump scare!”

Leonora struck Nathan with a taser. His muscles seized around the white hot surge in his side. Leonora hit him again and again and again. When she finally let up Nathan had collapsed into a ragdoll on the tile. The armor fell forward and the great sword came down upon his cranium.

THE GHOST OF HALLOWEEN YET TO COME

Nathan came to in an open grave. It was teaming with rainwater, knotted roots, and muck. It wreaked of worms and formaldehyde. He leaned forward and felt something hard and slick beneath his palms. He was floating atop a casket. “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

Nathan dug into the dirt wall, grabbed a long rope of root, and pulled himself up with all the grace of Adam West’s Batman. Moments later he was back on the coffin. He tried to claw his way up the steep incline. He managed to get a foothold, felt the grass at the borders of the plot, and then he was back on the coffin with an avalanche of mud coming down on him.

The mudslide had exposed a second root system. This one weaved in and out of the dirt like stitching. Nathan climbed the handholds, pulled himself back up, and grabbed at fistfuls of grass until he was able to roll onto solid ground.

Thunder clapped and a fleeting glimpse of daylight shone through the surroundings. The landscape was dotted with statues: angels whose wingspan wrapped around their shoulders like overcoats, generals who watched over the cemetery from atop their monuments, and cherubs.

“Fuck all you all motherfuckers.” Nathan said with what the little indignation he could muster.

He then turned his attention to the headstone. “Alright, let’s peep on this epitaph.”

He crawled around the rim of the open grave, careful not to slide back in. As for the headstone, it was tasteful, not too garish, not too small. The base was carpeted with red roses and for a moment Nathan felt appreciated, until he read was etched into the rock:

HERE LIES STEPHEN KING: THE LAST GREAT HORROR AUTHOR.

Nathan stared at the text perplexed. “Shouldn’t there be a birthdate and death date? Maybe something about his wife?”

Lightning struck a redwood not far from the headstone. Cinders shot through the air like fireworks. The blast had cleaved the trunk down the center and set the standing side aflame. As the blaze spread it outlined a towering figure. Its hooded face regarded Nathan with cold indifference. Its tattered robes fluttered against the breeze. Nathan scanned the frayed edges and spotted, not legs, but bunches of squirming appendages: snakes, centipedes, and other vermin. Nathan panned down the figure’s skirt and saw tentacles writhing in the grass.

Nathan ran for it. Monuments, mausoleums, and markers passed in a blur, and as he ran those granite shapes grew taller until they rose above the tree line. The headstones became standing stones and the fire that had consumed the redwood had found its way back into the sky. The storm clouds turned volcanic and the rain turned to ash.

Overwhelmed Nathan lost sight of his footing, snagged his toe and hit the prairie face first, then he just kept hitting it as he rolled downhill. He was still sliding when he’d settled onto his belly. That’s when he saw the gapping maw of the open grave ready to swallow him up again. He dug into the grass, but didn’t stop until he was teetering on the edge of the pit.

That’s when Nathan felt the tentacle wrap around his ankle, slice through his pantleg, and latch onto his calf. Nathan burrowed into prairie down to his elbows, but the dirt did him no favors. “Fuck you, Lovecraft. You racist piece of—”

One good tug from the tentacle and all the dirt Nathan was hanging onto came right down with him.

When Nathan landed he did not feel the smooth lid of coffin, but a writhing mass of angry limbs, poking and prodding at all his tender bits until they got a good grip. A tentacle slid around Nathan’s brow. Its suckers pulsed with hunger. The long grey appendage looped around Nathan’s eyes, ears, and nose, before tunneling into his mouth.

Despite the pressure on his eardrums Nathan could still hear the precise moment his skull cracked open.

SUNDAY MORNING

Nathan awoke on his side kissing a puddle of his own sick. He’d thrown up in the middle of the night. Had he slept on his back he’d have asphyxiated and died. Now little Pazuzu was rubbing his whiskers in the mess. Nathan mustered the strength to crawl out from under the table, scoop the cat up, and sequester him in the bedroom.

Nathan was relieved to be alive, but he had no plan to throw the windows open and ask some young man what day it was. He knew damn well it was October 27thand he needed to shampoo the carpet and wash away the stench of his poor life decisions.

When Nathan was finally refreshed he elected to go out. Now he didn’t gift any turkeys to any needy families, nor did he donate to any charities. He was too broke to play benefactor and there were no Tiny Tims anywhere in his life. Instead, he took a notepad down to the local bakery and let his train of thought careen down the tracks.

Nathan listed the qualities someone had to possess for him care about them. He thought long and hard about what qualities made people sympathetic, fascinating, or praiseworthy. He thought about his friends, family, and coworkers. He dreamt up crazy situations that might reveal the full measure of their character.

Then he listed the horror topes he’d always hated and imagined some fresh spins on them. He analyzed the dream about Stephen King’s headstone and came up with a concept worth riffing on:

What if a horror legend had the ability to navigate the collective unconscious and syphon inspiration from his competition? What if one of those authors found out and tried to retaliate? What would happen if the horror legend summoned demons to stop him?

Nathan gripped the page as if to rip it out. “That is such batshit stupid concept… It’d be a shame to let it go to waste.”

He turned the page, wrote the title: NOVELMANCER, and then he wrote some more.

Continue reading A Halloween Carol

Treehouse of Horror Episodes to Distract from Despair of Spending Halloween Alone

October is here and with it another entry in the Simpsons’ 30 year Treehouse of Horrorcollection, a Halloween tradition, and a highpoint in an otherwise uninterrupted downward spiral into the holiday season.

These are best episodes to make you sentimental for a time before you worried about which utility to let slide for the month, when you were certain true love came to everyone, and you didn’t depend on medication just to get out of bed in the morning.

Why spend Halloween alone. Join the first family of animation for a midfall marathon of the macabre.

  1. Treehouse of Horror XII

Hex and the City

Homer runs afoul of a Gypsy bringing death and destruction to everyone around him, and you thought your life was cursed.

House of Whacks

No need to stew in your own emotional juices. Let the Pierce Brosnan voiced Ultrahouse 3000 draw you a bath.

Wiz Kids

Remember when that first Harry Potter movie hit theaters? Oh what a sweet summer child you were, thinking you’d grow up to be a big rock star, plucking on that Squier Bullet Stratocaster, composing Rolling Stone interview answers in your head. Best not think about how J.K. Rowling is racking in the billions while you still can’t carry a tune.

9.Treehouse of Horror IX

Hell Toupee

You could spend your evening debating which friends would be brave enough to speak at your funeral or you could let Homer’s living toupee clear your mind of that self-destructive ideation.

The Terror of Tiny Toon

Bart and Lisa find themselves trapped in an episode of Itchy and Scratchy. A premise that shouldn’t seem too far-fetched considering how much of your life is spent living vicariously through your TV.

Starship Poopers

You and Maggie Simpson have something in common, when Maggie discovers something in her genetic inheritance has made her into a monster.

  1. Treehouse of Horror X

I know what you Diddly-Iddily-Did

Do you ever feel guilt stricken for something your haven’t done? Have you ever internalized a nauseating shame for a mistake you only thought of making? Well, before you crack under the weight of your self-imposed standards consider that you have yet to be involved with a hit and run.

Desperately Seeking Xena

Remember Xena Warrior Princess? Remember 90s primetime TV? Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Remember The X-Files? Remember your idea for that couples’ costume you never got to wear, because you couldn’t find anyone willing to dress as Agent Scully? Well, maybe this cute little super hero spoof will take you mind off of your debilitating loneliness.

Life’s a Glitch and then You Die

Remember the dawn of the millennium when your gravest concern was the Y2K virus? When you thought moving to the city would broaden your romantic possibilities. Remember how you stayed in writing poems to coup with the days’ rejection while your friends wandered into romance like it was nothing? Whatever happened to them.

  1. Treehouse of Horror VIII

The HΩmega Man

You know how you walk that streets at four in the morning and imagine you’re the last person on earth? Homer finds himself in that exact situation, yet he approaches it with a smile on.

Fly vs. Fly

Have you ever felt so small, so insignificant that you felt like a nonentity in your own story? Well, in this episode Bart turns into a fly and he’s still the center of attention.

Easy-Bake Coven

Remember when you went on a shoplifting spree and stole a pentagram necklace from Spencer’s Gifts, a deck of tarot cards, and a book on Witchcraft from Walden Books? Remember when you told your friends you were Wiccan, then The Crafthit theaters and you threw all that in the broom closet? Well, now crystals and tea leaves are in fashion, but you no longer believe in anything.

  1. Treehouse of Horror VI

Attack of 50-Foot Eyesores

Remember that Halloween party where everyone hit on your girlfriend and she left without telling you where she was going. Lard Lad is here to drop a nostalgia bomb on that painful memory.

Nightmare on Evergreen Terrace

You’ve had so many dreams about dying that you know for certain if you die in a dream you’ll still have to go to work in the morning.

Homer³

When Patty and Selma visit without warning Homer answers the call of the void and phases out a existence. Do you ever wonder if there’s a parallel universe where your circumstances would be better? Do you find your eyes wandering to dark voids searching for a way home? That’s not normal.

  1. Treehouse of Horror III

Clown without Pity

With the success of It: Chapter 2 and Jokerbad clowns are really having a moment. Perhaps you can take comfort in the fact that no matter how bad it’s gotten you’ve never resorted to clowning.

King Homer

Do you ever feel like King Kong when you develop feelings for someone? A big lumbering fool imposing yourself on another person.

Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies

The Simpsons find themselves pursued by a horde of unrelenting zombies with no regard for their personal space. Kind of like the Halloween parties ragging throughout your apartment building. Here you are trying to enjoy a little Treehouse of Horrormarathon, but you can’t hear the TV with all the footsteps rushing up the common stairs, blaring subwoofers, and drunken banter on the lawn.

  1. Treehouse of Horror II

The Monkey’s Paw

If you had four wishes what would they be?

  1. A living wage?
  2. A rent controlled apartment?
  3. Cast more people in roles that are usually reserved for pets?
  4. Or to simply remain functional as long as possible without another outburst?

It’s a Good Life

Endowed with God-like powers Bart forces everyone in Springfield to think happy thoughts for fear they’ll be turned into hideous monstrosities. A fear you should already know a lot about.

Frankenstein

If you’re like a lot of people you hate the way you look, but do you ever wonder if you’d feel any better if your brain was transferred to another body?

  1. Treehouse of Horror VII

The Thing and I

Have you ever harbored deep suspicions that you were someone else’s evil twin?

The Genesis Tub

How could God be all powerful, all good, and leave your life in the state it’s in? Perhaps we’re all mold in a petri dish for a second grader’s science fair project.

Citizen Kang

Are you constantly refreshing CNN’s main page asking, “Is he impeached yet? Is he impeached yet? Is he impeached yet?”

Let Kang and Kronos beam you back to a simpler time when campaign seasons were far less emotionally exhausting.

  1. Treehouse of Horror IV

The Devil and Homer Simpson

When you see depictions of hell on screen do you ever get the nagging suspicion that you’re watching the coming attractions for your ultimate end? You should.

Terror at 5½ Feet

Have you ever felt like there was a gremlin on your shoulder cracking your skull open, crossing your wires, and ripping out all your good parts?

Bart Simpson’s Dracula

Do you ever think you’d have an easier time transitioning into life as a vampire than your neuro-typical peers? You don’t eat right, you only go out at night, and you already think of yourself as a parasite.

  1. Treehouse of Horror V

The Shinning

The ghosts in the Overlook hotel targeted Jack Torrance because his alcoholism and unchecked anger left him vulnerable to their influence. Do you ever get the feeling you’d be the target in a similar scenario?

Time and Punishment

You know a thing or two about time travel fantasies. You’re always wondering what might’ve happed had you met with a guidance counselor, hadn’t worked a fulltime job while taking a full course load, gotten on academic probation, and taken a break from college. If only you’d gone back to get a bachelor’s degree instead of trying to turn an unpaid internship into a career. If only you’d kept your LinkedIn notifications on and let your hypercritical friend have a peek at your resumé. Then maybe you’d have been financially attractive enough to someone who wanted children.

Then you’d have gotten the full Halloween experience. Your kids would look on with admiration as you carved pumpkins into their favorite cartoon characters. They’d roll their eyes at your attempt to recite catch-phrases in costume. They’d match your enthusiasm for trick or treating and come to appreciate your ability to carry two pillowcases stuffed with candy at once. But alas, here you are watching The Simpsons.

Nightmare Cafeteria

Budget cuts have forced Springfield Elementary to resort cannibalism. Kind of like how your long bouts of selfcare are eating away at the time you have left to turn this whole thing around. Maybe next year. Yeah, it will be warmer outside. You’ll have met some new people. They’ll have invited you to some Halloween parties. Pop culture will have provided you with better costume ideas. This year you’ll stay in with The Simpsons, but next year, next year you’ll be a whole new person.

Continue reading Treehouse of Horror Episodes to Distract from Despair of Spending Halloween Alone

Why the Future of Hollywood is Stuck in The Past

By the year 2020 there will 101,228 feature films released throughout human history (according to IMDB). Assuming the average run time is 110 minutes, it would take 11,135,080 minutes to watch them all, that’s 185,585 hours, 7,733 days, 22 years if you don’t sleep or go to the bathroom, and 30 years if you do. If you tried to watch a new movie every night for the rest of your life you’d have to live to the ripe old age of 284 (assuming you watch nothing beyond 2019).

Cinephiles have a cornucopia of calls to adventure to answer, a diversity of dramatic turns to take, and a never-ending supply of new worlds to explore. So why do we get déjà vu whenever we go to the theater? Look up on the marquee. There’s that name we’ve seen a dozen times before, no roman numerals behind it, no subtitle. New year. Same old titles.

The answer is in the question. We have 284 years of options. People want to know what to expect before investing their time. That’s why franchise films continue to reign like eternal dynasties.

Rotten Reviews Don’t Matter Anymore

It used to be if an entry in a series was panned it damaged the franchise’s reputation. Back when there was a scarcity of long running continuities an Exorcist 2or Jaws 4 would derail a series. These days, in the era of shared cinematic universes, franchises are too big to fail.

SoThe Conjuring spinoff Annabelle was poorly received? The studio just made another prequel with a different creative team. So The Conjuring 2 spinoff The Nun was scored low too? Now they’re spinning off The Crocked Manfrom The Conjuring 2to see if he’s got what it takes. The convoy may swerve here and there, but it just keeps on trucking.

Universal has been trying to launch a monster mashup franchise forever. Dracula Untoldwasn’t the series launcher they were hoping for so they tried again with The Mummyas a Tom Cruise auctioneer. Now they’re remodeling their Dark Universe after The Conjuring universe, with a lower budget horror-centric version of The Invisible Man.

Warner Brothers are continuing with the DCEU where Ben Affleck and Jared Leto play Batman and the Joker respectively. Meanwhile they’re producing a backdoor DC universe where director Matt Reeves is recasting Batman and Joaquin Phoenix is playing the Joker. Oblivious to possibility oversaturating the superhero market Warner Brothers is hedging their bets.

Everybody is Eating the Member Berries

Hollywood is learning that extended cinematic universes are hard to build, much harder than resurrecting a dead brand. YouTube is full of Gen Xers who can’t stop talking about the movies they grew up with. Hollywood tried to reboot those classics action adventure flicks for millennials, but none of them took. So producers came up with a new strategy.

Let’s listen in on one of their conversations.

“Can we do anything with the Alienfranchise or did Ridley Scott kill it for good?”

Prometheusand Alien Covenant didn’t resonate with audiences. The Alien VS. Predator movies are best forgotten. Joss Whedon wiped his hands of Alien Resurrection. Alien 3almost killed David Fincher’s career before it started… But Alienwas a cult classic and Aliensmade James Cameron a household name. If only we could jettison the franchise’s baggage we might be in business.”

“What are you proposing?”

“We make a sequel to Aliens. Bring back all the characters who died off screen in Alien 3, like Hicks and Newt, and pretend none of those other movies even happened.”

“But what about the fans of the sequels, prequels, and spinoffs?”

“They’ll be first in line. Didn’t you see what happened with 2018’s Halloween?”

(Authors note: this actually pitch by Neill Blomkamp is stuck in development hell at the time of this writing, but the Alienfranchise will live on as a mobile game).

Halloween was A Harbinger of Things To Come

TheHalloweenfranchise has gone through many revisions, retcons, and reimaginings since John Carpenter directed the original, but 2018’s Halloweenmarks a trend in franchise film making. It isn’t quite a sequel nor is it a reboot. It’s a do-over sequel, one the wipes all but the 1978 film from the continuity. Technically it’s the third version of Halloween 2.

It sounds like a bold experiment until you realize it was made on a modest 10 million dollar budget. Since Halloweencame out in October it’s earned nearly 160 million, making it the franchise’s biggest opening, the biggest horror opening with a female lead, the biggest opening with a female lead over 55, and the second biggest October opening ever.

Halloween’s success set the stage for every tarnished brand to come back with a fresh coat of paint on, but will it teach Hollywood the right lesson?

1980s Franchises Now and Forever

TheGhostbustersreboot was a hit with critics, it made a profit, but it wasn’t a billion dollar success, so that continuity is dead and director Jason Reitman is going forward with Ghostbusters 3.

TheRoboCopreboot followed a similar trend, which is why Neill Blomkamp is bringing Alex Murphy back to his old continuity in Robocop Returns.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is set return to the role of Conan the Barbarian after the reboot failed to take root.

Linda Hamilton is returning to the role of Sarah Connor in the next Terminatormovie, even after two Game of Thronesactresses have played the character.

Closing Thoughts

My generation’s nostalgic streak is costing mellenials new experiences. Bankrupt brands are taking up too much real estate on the big screen because we’re letting them. If a franchise has had one too many brushes with failure it should go into a state of hibernation for a five year minimum.

The wounds inflicted by Terminator Genisysare still fresh in my mind. It’s too soon for another one.

2018’sHalloweenworked because it was the exception that proved the rule. It was a 10 million dollar low risk experiment that payed off. The estimated budget for Terminator 6 is 255 million dollars (making it the most expensive entry in the series). If it makes anything short of a billion dollars the studio will likely consider it a failure… But they’ll probably make another one anyway. Think about all the sci fi movies the studio could make if they divided up that budget and took some risks on some fresh intellectual properties. That’s why my generation needs to stop giving franchise films infinite retries. Let’s give the next generation something of their own to be nostalgic for when they grow older.

Continue reading Why the Future of Hollywood is Stuck in The Past

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

The Ultimate X-Files Halloween Marathon

No October is complete without a healthy X-Files binging session, but rather than trying to plow through all 11 seasons might I make some recommendations?

S11 E8 Familiar

In 2018 The X-Files went full creepy pasta with one of its darkest episodes to date featuring a kids show icons that bears more than a passing resemblance to Slender Man, a Satanic Tinky-Winky, and the creepiest song on this side of Elm Street. Despite those modern trimmings this episode is classic X-Files. Mulder and Scully investigate a small town murder only to find themselves in the middle of an angry mob fueled by black magic.

S11 E4 The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat

Mulder and Scully meet a man who claims he’s been their partner throughout the entirety of the series and that he’s been erased from their memories by a weaponized version of the Mandela Effect.

This episode asks is reality subjective? Does it bend to the whim of whoever perceives it? Are shadow forces conspiring to alter our collective memories? Are there alternative universes where every possible outcome is happening, or is the Trump administration full of shit about everything?

Great line, “Confuse the Twilight Zone with the Outer Limits? Do you even know me?!”

I’d argue this is the funniest episode of the series. I’ve played the alien ambassador segment near the end of the episode out of context for dozens of my friends. It always gets a laugh.

S10 E3 Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Werewolf movies like American Werewolf in Londonfollow a tight formula: person gets bitten, feels emboldened by their newfound animalistic confidence, gives into their instincts, comes close to hurting someone they love, and chooses to go out in a blaze of glory. This episode puts a fresh spin on the formula by asking: What would happen if a cryptozoological creature got bitten by a human? Would it have a sudden compulsion to put on clothes, get a job, and exaggerate about its sex life?

Rhys Darby, the “Swear Wolf” from What We Do in the Shadowsgives another brilliant comedic performance, as does X-Files super fan comedian Kumail Nanjiani.

This episode is a must watch for fans of Charlie Kaufman’s Human Nature, or Kaufman films in general.

S9 E13 Improbable

What better way to memorialize the late great Burt Reynolds than to watch the episode of The X-Files where he played God? Reynolds, as God, tries to lure a serial killer to the light by using numerology to explain the forces that govern the universe. This is one of the better Mulder-less episodes giving the intuitive Agent Reyes a moment to step into the spotlight.

This episode is worth watching for the scene where God explains the heap of compact discs in the trunk of his car. “I love all music, but I prefer the stuff that lasts.”

So classy.

S7 E12 X-Cops

Hot on the heels of The Blair Witch ProjectThe X-Files took a stab at the found footage genre by using the format of network sibling Copsto do it. Mulder and Scully are investigating a monster that preys on mortal terror. They run into a patrol officer with a film crew in the back of his overturned squad car. Soon the agents find themselves giving the public a window into the paranormal.

S6 E15 Arcadia

Mulder and Scully are sent undercover to investigate a disappearance in the scariest place yet: a gated community. Mulder doesn’t take the assignment all the seriously, playing the role of husband with adolescent enthusiasm. “Women get in here and make me a sandwich.”

In the X-Files community there are “shippers” and “non-shippers.” We shippers spent years wanting to see Mulder and Scully in a relationship. Here we’re taught to be careful what we wish for.
“Mulder, whoever taught you how to squeeze a tube of toothpaste? Toilet seat, third warning.”

“Scully, the thrill is gone.”

S5 E12 Bad Blood

When Mulder drives a stake through a suspect’s heart Scully arrives to find the suspect’s fangs are fake. Now the agents have to get their stories straight.

When TV shows last too long they inevitably do an episode exploring the Rashomon effect. Several characters recount the same event from their own slanted perspectives. Usually it’s one of the weaker episodes relying on the same tired formula. Here it’s one of The X-Files strongest.

Scully sees Luke Wilson’s as a tall dark and handsome man of the law. Mulder sees him as a buck toothed hick who says, “Y’all must be the guv’ment people.”

This is one of the funniest episodes of the series and a great initiation episode for people who’ve never seen the show.

S4 E2 Home

A lot of people think NBC’s Hannibal was the most hardcore show on network TV. Hannibal, please.

This episode is of The X-Files is the stuff of legends. Fox refused to air it upon its completion. When it did air (late one Halloween) it was the first episode of the show to be broadcast with a “Viewer Discretion” warning. This hour of television veers into dark, hard R rated, David Fincher territory, featuring: tumor encrusted mutants, death traps, and something under the bed that you’ll have to see to believe. If you’re composing a list of things you can’t believe were shown on network television start here.

S3 E20 Jose Chung from Outer Space

Usually The X-Files took the alien abduction phenomenon of the 90s deadly seriously. Here the series lets loose and makes fun of all the abduction lore clichés.

This is The X-Files at its most meta and self referential: from the stop motion Cyclops in the sputtering UFO, to the chain smoking aliens, to the brilliant send up of regression hypnotherapy’s power to “unlock” memories.

Featuring Charles Nelson Riley as a Kurt Vonnegut-esque satirist and Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek as men in black.

S3 E4 Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (or just Clyde Bruckmanon streaming)

Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate the murders of a string of psychic mediums. The agents find themselves disposed by the local authorities when Mulder runs afoul of a TV Psychic the locals have called on for help. Mulder happens upon his own psychic, a man who came to his abilities obsessing over the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper. To make things stranger it turns out the killer may be a medium himself. It’s psychic against psychic in the final mind bending confrontation.

Honorable Mentions:

S6 E14 Monday

It’sGroundhog’s Day with Mulder and Scully and a bank robbery.

S6 E2 Drive

When Break Bad series creator Vince Gilligan told AMC he wanted Bryan Cranston for the role of Walter White the network was hesitant. At the time Cranston was known as the quirky father from Malcolm in the Middle. Gilligan used this episode of The X-Files to change AMC’s mind. In it Cranston plays a desperate man who forces Mulder to drive him at a constant speed for fear that something in his head will explode.

S2 E4 Die Hand Die Verlezt

The X-Files has done several episodes exploring the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, but this is the episode where the show went all in. It has everything: a summoning ritual in the woods, repressed memories of cult activity, and a Satanic teachers association.

S5 E5 The Post-Modern Prometheus

Mulder and Scully wander into the plot of a 50s B-movie, complete with a dramatic lightning, a mad scientist, and a Cher impersonator.

S6 E6 How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

It’s Mulder and Scully versus pop psychology when ghosts try to convince them to kill themselves on Christmas Eve.

S2 E20 Humbug

The agents investigate a series of murders in a traveling freak show. This episode is notable for appearances by Jim Rose, the Enigma, and Michael J. Anderson from Twin Peaks and Carnivàle.

S4 E7 Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man

“Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap perfunctory gift that no one ever asked for.”

The X-Files puts a dark spin on Forrest Gump by inserting the Cigarette-Smoking man into a series of historical assassinations.

S2 E24 Our Town

The agents investigate a meat processing plant with a secret ingredient that certainly isn’t love.

S5 E10 Chinga

When Stephen King writes for The X-Files you better believed he’s going to tell a story about a cursed doll. “Time to play!” Continue reading The Ultimate X-Files Halloween Marathon

The Red Devil Halloween Pail

I was sitting up in bed flipping through an issue of Nintendo Power when Dad knocked on the doorframe.

“Hey buddy, I got something for you.”

Dad reached into a shopping bag, took great care to unwrap the paper around the item, which he set on the mattress. It was a Halloween pail in the shape of a red devil. The devil stared at me from the edge of my bed. He was odd, unsettling, unlike anything I’d seen at Target. He had paint strokes and tiny imperfections signifying he hadn’t come off of any assembly line. A bubble in the shellac had created a wart on the end of his long sharp nose. His horns were tiny nubs with photorealistic ridges. His toothy grin was framed in the classic Satanic goatee. His angry eyebrows were raised so high they nearly touched his hairline. As for his glowing yellow cat eyes they felt like they were watching me.

Without thinking I scurried up my headboard. “He’s creepy.”

Dad wore a Cheshire Cat smile. “I know right?” He held the pail in his hand like he was preparing to recite Shakespeare. “I was told this handcrafted papier-mâché devil is one of a kind. I saw him in a shop window and immediately thought of you.”

“A red devil reminded you of me?”

“Definitely. It’s something in the eyes, that twinkle of unrepentant malevolence.”

I crossed my arms. “Gee thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome. You see I do notice these things.”

I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t in footy pajamas anymore. I was past going out in a plastic smock with a picture of who I was supposed to be on it. I was way beyond Halloween pails. I was seven, old enough to know the true meaning of the season was to maximize sugar intake before winter hibernation.

“You realize I’ll be using a pillowcase like everyone else.”

Dad shielded the devil’s long bat-like ears from such slander. “No way José!

“This impulse item didn’t come cheap.”

I shrugged. “You can use him.”

Dad pointed a finger to the idea bulb blinking above his head. “What if you put the best candy, the king sized bars, in the pail, and put the run off in the pillow?”

I tilted my head back and forth. “How about the other way around?”

Dad feigned confusion. He held the devil pail so as to whisper in its pointy ear then held its mouth up to his ear as if it was whispering back. “He agrees to your terms, but there’s a caveat.”

“A what?”

“A provision entitling your father to 10% of your take.”

I shook my head. “We haven’t learned percentages yet.”

“5?”

“Fine.”

We shook on it, Dad kissed me on the forehead, and I went to sleep. The next night we had a very profitable Halloween indeed.

The Halloween Haul

I dumped my pillow out across my bed. I was type A even back in the day. I had a system for organizing my sweets.

The candy bars were split into subcategories those with nuts, those without, those with a cookie crunch, and those with nougat (the cornerstone of a notorious breakfast).

This was when neighbors didn’t care if children had fatal food allergies. “Here, have a Salted Nut Roll you’ll be fine.”

It was only after I’d sorted through my best bars that I decided to sift through the fun-sized pile of shame.

I flipped the devil pail over and dumped the cast offs on my pillow. I shivered as a chill moved up the back of my neck.

That’s when I notice the strange oddities among the Jolly Ranchers, candy buttons, and Sixlets. It seemed as though some of the items I’d put into the pail that weren’t candy, toothpaste, dental floss, and the like, had come out different.

Where there were raisins were now sponge capsules that grew into dinosaurs when you added water. Bookmarks had become Garbage Pall Kids trading cards. A religious booklet titled Trick or Truthhad become an official Ghostbusters Ghostblaster noisemaker.

“Great Cesar’s ghost!”

The Ghostblaster was no small find. It was a limited edition promotion item exclusive to Hardee’s. Dad and I had driven around the city trying to track one down not knowing they’d already recalled them because they contained choking hazards. My little heart was broken, yet somehow someone in the neighborhood was giving them away like they were nothing. How could I have possibly mistaken this Ghostblaster for a religious text?

Had I mistaken each of these items before I’d cast them into the pail of shame? No. No way my neighbors were that cool. Something sinister was happening and it had everything to do with that creepy hand crafted pail.

I held the devil pail so that we saw eye to eye.

“Where did all this cool stuff from?”

I noticed something I’d missed the first time I looked at this devil. His eyes were uneven. A stoke of red paint made one eye smaller than the other. If I didn’t known any better I’d say he was winking.

“Was it you who turned the toothpaste into a tube of fake blood?”

The pail felt heavier all of sudden, like something inside it was shifting. There was a terrible cramp in my hand and a strange sensation like that of an icepack wrapped around my wrist. Before I knew it I was bobbing the devil pail up and down as if to make it nod.

Dad knocked on my doorframe. “Knock knock.”

I dropped the pail and swept the changed items into my pillowcase. “Why say, ‘Knock knock’ when you’re already knocking and why knock when you’re already in the room?”

Dad scanned the X-Men posters for an answer. “Because I can.” His attention turned back to the bed. “Alright, you remember our little deal? Dad skims 5%.”

I half nodded. “I remember saying we haven’t learned percentages yet. Does five percent mean you want five items?”

I offered one strawberry granny candy, a box of Good and Plenty, lemonheads, Bazooka bubble gum, and a roll of Smarties. All candies I could comfortably part with.

“That’s it?”

I glared. “I have altered the deal. Pray that I don’t alter it any further.” I said in my best Darth Vader voice.

Dad cocked his head. “Daddy’s going to need some chocolate.”

I scrapped my haul together and lay on top, knowing full well what was coming.

Dad chuckled. “Oh I’ve got the key to this particular fortress.”

Electric tickle signals surged through my sides and before I knew it I’d rolled onto the floor cackling. Dad kept the tickle torcher going long after I’d left my mountain of candy unguarded. “This is the only way you’ll ever learn.”

“What’s going on here?” Mom spoke over dad’s shoulder.

“I’m teaching a very important lesson on why you shouldn’t weasel out of deals.”

Mom made a serious face. “You do realize that contract law is Mommy’s forte so if anything…” Mom moved into position. “I should be teaching this lesson.”

That’s when I felt her fingers beneath my armpits. I kicked like a frog on it’s back. With both of my parents tickling I went into convulsions.

That’s when a pew-pew-pew emitted from my pillow.

“What was that?” Mom perked up.

The Ghostblaster went off again.

I tried direct their attention toward the hall. “The smoke detector?”

Dad stood up. “Sounds like it needs new battery. I better change it or it’ll be doing that all night.”

Twilight Treasures

That night I stayed up putting objects into the devil pail. I tapped the brim like a magician, flipped it, and retrieved something awesome.

I dug through my desk doing an inventory of things I could part with: rubber bands, paperclips, foreign currency my grandparents had left me. I dropped each item into the pail and felt the weight shift, like an invisible hand plucked something out and slid something else in its place.

Birthday cards came out as Playboy bunny stickers just like the ones in the vending machine at the roller rink. Loose yarn came out as friendship bracelets. Erasers came out as finger monsters. A fist full of pencil shavings came out as a bag of bang snaps: little explosives wrapped in cigarette paper that popped when you pelted at the ground.

It became clear that the larger the item I put into the pail was the cooler the item that came out would be. The devil pail took a yo-yo and upgraded it into a military grade slingshot. It took a pair of dull edged scissors and upgraded them into a bonafide switchblade. It took a stack of Chuck E. Cheese tickets and upgraded them into a wad of cold hard cash.

When I was done rummaging through my closet for sacrificial objects I gathered up my bounty of silly string, throwing stars, and firecrackers and stuffed it all into my backpack. I lay awake thinking about all the showing and telling I’d be doing on the playground.

Impromptu Parent Teacher Conference

Principle Simonson withdrew the contents of my backpack an item at a time for dramatic effect. He was trying to impress upon my parents the sheer volume of contraband their son had gotten his hands on.

“One set of brass knuckles.”

I couldn’t help but marvel at how the knuckles had retained the red coloring of the Swingline stapler they were born from.

“One, is it, a pairof Nunchucks?”

There were two candles mom wasn’t getting back.

Principle Simonson shot my mother a nasty look as he set the next item on the desk.

“One deck of pornographic playing cards.”

In hindsight, what little I can recall of the deck was not pornographic, not as I’D define the word today. They were tasteful hand painted pin-ups. The kind of bathing suit beauties one might see painted on the nose of jet. There was no nudity, but the nevertheless I was really going to miss them.

I was going to miss everything Principle Simonson was confiscating: the whoopee cushion, the fart spray, the candy cigarettes, and prop fingers. These were gifts I’d given to myself.

This felt like one of those Christmas dreams when my parents got me the thing they’d sworn Santa couldn’t fit into his slay. One minute I was driving around the lawn in a miniature motorized DeLorean and the next I was waking up with nothing.

Mom crouched down to my level. “Honey you have to tell us where you got all of these things?”

In the second grade I didn’t know anything about my Fourth Amendment right prohibiting unreasonable search and seizure, but I knew enough about my Fifth Amendment right not to implicate myself.

Mom put her hand on my wrist. “Honey, I need you to tell me if someone gave them to you?”

I hadn’t meant to nod, but my chin had betrayed me.

“Who honey?”

I assumed these enchanted items had come from a “what.” It hadn’t occurred to me that there might actually be a “who.”

I didn’t know how to put the reality of the situation into words so I sat there with my mouth open while mom rattled off her questions.

“Did they tell you not to say? Were they a stranger? Did you meet them on your way home? Did they say they’d hurt you if you told? Did they ask you to go anywhere with them?”

I shook my head, but there was no derailing mom’s train of reasoning. Someone had tried to enchant her son in the ten minutes it took him to walk home. Dad’s default cocksure grin flattened as mom detailed a worst-case scenario. It was clear to her that stranger-danger had made its way to our little town. They agreed that I’d be spending a few extra hours in the extended day program after school until dad could pick me up on his way home.

•••

That evening dad put the devil pail on the top shelf of the laundry room closet between the turtle wax and Christmas ornaments.

Worse still I was grounded. I wanted nothing more than to serve out my penance gathering items and tossing them into the pail. I’d stare at my mother’s ceramic figurines and wonder what they’d become once they’d touched the devil’s tongue. I wondered how many fountain pens dad really needed or if mom would notice if one little piece of China went missing.

I’d always wanted a pair of X-Ray specs, fake vomit, and trick dice.

No matter. The pail was out of reach and there was no way I was drudging the stepladder from the garage without drawing attention. I’d have to bide my time until a growth spurt kicked in.

•••

That night I dreamt my parents were bound and gag, heading down a conveyor belt into a fiery furnace shaped like the devil’s mouth. Their eyes plead for help, but I just stood at the levers waving goodbye to care. To my parents’ credit, they were teetering back and forth, trying their best to roll off the belt, but they just could coordinate very well. They heat was already making them sweat. Mom was sobbing, trying desperately to chew through her gag to get out one final plea, but it was too late.

There was the faintest of shrieks as the furnace belched a giant fireball. A tire cut path through the smoke. A blood red mountain coasted through the haze, dipped off the conveyor belt, and rolled right between my legs.

When I awoke the devil pail was sitting upon my chest staring at me with those glowing yellow eyes. I had no clue how it got there, but I knew it was hungry.

•••

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?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

How Horror Bloggers can Milk Halloween All October Long

Another October is upon us and you know what that means: morning show hosts treating pumpkin spice like it’s heroin, think pieces on seasonal depression, and outrage over tone deaf Halloween costumes (this year it’s a slinky short skirted version of the robes from the Handmaid’s Tale).

Oh, and horror writers doing everything they can to get you to look in our direction.

“Hey! You know you’ve been meaning to check out my scary stories out for a while? Well now’s the time!”

That’s right. Now’s the time of year horror writers get to be on brand and topically relevant to the normies in our social media feed. Rather than dig deep for a memoir on how the season shaped our young imaginations (something personally profound no one would read) we need quick clickable articles that write themselves.

Well if you’re looking for a template for sharable Halloween content to steal from you’ve come to the right guy.

Tis the Season to be Listing

Nothing says cheap mindless content like laying on the listicles. Sure everyone who’s into horror has seen trailers for every film that’s come out this year, but you’re a movie maven so inform everyone what they really ought to be watching.

Maybe you’ll be the 10thcritic to finally push them into seeing Mandy, it’s Nic Cage fighting cenobite bikers with a battle-axe (in a slow burning surrealist study with sparse dialogue). What’s not to like?

Maybe you can be the first of your film buff friends to pitch The Endless in a way that makes sense to casual audiences.

“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.”

“It’s a coming of age tale set in a UFO death cult.”

“It’s basically The Wicker Man meets Groundhogs Day.”

Clearly I haven’t cracked it yet. Why don’t you try?

Or maybe you can be the first amongst to laud praise on the deboot of Halloween, and champion other exhausted franchises to dump their excess canon in favor of a direct sequels to their original films.

Tap some lists out at the bus stop. Here are some suggestions:

  • Best on Screen Decapitations (The Exorcist 3 is obligatory)
  • Best Mirror Jump Scares
  • Best Demon Etching Title Sequences
  • Best Uses of Moonlight Sonata in a Horror Property
  • Best Horror Spins on Less Successful Sci Fi Premises
  • Best Recent Horrific Crimes for Writers to Base New Material on While the Families are Still Grieving
  • Most Violent Moments on Broadcast Television that Would’ve Gotten an R Rating Had They Been Shown on the Big Screen
  • Best Stephen King Tribute References in Stephen King’s Own Novels

These lists practically write themselves.

Review the Shit Out of Everything

There are too many horror shows for streamers to sift through. Isn’t it part of your vocation as a champion of revulsion to grade them with some sort of skull-centric rating system? Halloween is the Oscars for all things horror. It’s your duty as a corrupter of young minds to cast your vote on time.

Mine the Hell Out of the Past

Save your audience a Google search by listing all the Halloween themed episodes available on streaming. Rank The Simpson Tree House of Horror episodes. Add episodes from the revival seasons of The X-Files to your best of posts, and list the top 10 episodes of The Twilight Zone you want Jordan Peele to remake in the forthcoming series.

Repackage Old Articles with Seasonal Thumbnails

That old blog on Horror Clichés in Need of an Exorcism is just one jack-o-lantern PNG away from being relevant again. That entry on the art of Building Your Own Monsters is just a Halloween hashtag from being reblogged by readers. You got a few comments from that The War on Halloween editorial just add a devil emoji and share that shit again.

People who know me, should’ve suspected my demon nature for some time.

Streamline Your Short Fiction

Writing seasonal flash fiction is challenging. Those short stories get hits in the moment, but on October 31st they become irrelevant. Why waste your time and energy when you just want readers to click on the books for sale in the margins?

I recommend stocking up on Mad Libs and filling them with monster references:

(Man’s name) Flavius Octavius Davis walked in and opened the (noun) lead lined casket where he found a (adjective) bioluminescent (verb) mangled (noun) alien corpse with rope-like heaps of coiled tentacles. He exclaimed (exclamation) “Sweet Jesus, no!”

Make Your Readers Do the Work

Invite the audience to vote on your Halloween costume options, plans for the night in question, and ultimately your excuses for staying in.

But Whatever You Do Don’t…

Don’t give up them game by telling readers about the cynical click-bait schemes you’ve been concocting behind the scenes. That would be the kind noxious over sharing that would be harmful to your brand. You want to seem like your authentic self to readers without letting it all hang out and actually being authentic.

Only a well-trained transdimensional traveler secure in his meta-musings would poses the strength of mind to even attempt such a thing. (Drew wipes the sweat from his brow while tugging at his collar like a nervous cartoon character.)

Oh… and… uh… Happy Halloween!

•••

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?

Pre-order my novel HE HAS MANY NAMES today!

Drew Chial’s Halloween Short Story Showcase

Here is a sampling of my finest short horror stories and Halloween posts to get you in the mood for the season.

The Smilers: A Horror Story About Happy People

The Smilers Logo

A story about pleasantry pushing pod people in the spirit of the Twilight Zone.

The Inspiration Killers: A Story about Monsters that Prey on Creativity

Shadow Play

What if there were evil spirits that targeted artists?

I Am Fire: A Story about a Game of Truth or Flare

6. Man Made of Fire

Why you should never call a teenage witch a basic bitch.

Shop Dropping: A Spooky Story about People Who Put Things on Retail Shelves

Infinite Book

What happens when a clerk follows a shoplifter to find they were leaving mysterious items behind?

Death Hacks: Tricks to Make Your Afterlife More Fun

Ghost Portrait

Pro tips on how to get the most out of being a ghost.

#Unblessed: A Scary Story Told 140 Characters At a Time

Unblessed

Read a cursed man’s final 40 tweets.

Slender Man’s Rival

Slender Man
Slender Man

When the internet gave birth to Slender Man it gave birth to something else as well.

The Haunting of My Love Life

Bleeding Heart
Bleeding Heart

A short story about when haunted house builders go too far.

The War on Halloween

2. Hands Up

You’ve heard of the War on Christmas, but have you heard of the War on Halloween? This is a letter from a concerned demon.

The Monster Mashup: Classic Monsters Gone Wrong

Frankenstein's Monster
Frankenstein’s Monster

Can I turn four classic monsters into the butt of the same dirty joke? You bet I can.

The Monster Mashup Part 2

Nosferatu
Nosferatu

What happens when you take modern monsters out of their element? Something totally wrong. Enjoy.

Happy Halloween from the Fury Road