the awesomeness of Stranger Things – and recommended reading

header-stranger-things-80s-movies
dunt dunna dunt dunt … my Winona

I loved the NetFlix original series Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes long, but never feels rushed. The Duffer Brothers did a great job, giving us characters we care about and a monster that truly terrified me. It’s set in the early ’80s and begins with four young kids playing a Dungeons & Dragons game. After the game ends one never makes it home. The cast is excellent, the police are not jerks or incompetent, and even the bullies have depth. It’s not perfect but it’s very close. And it doesn’t have a smarmy facade of nostalgia, the early ’80s were good and bad. A little anachronistic in behavior, but that’s expected.

strangerthangs copy

I recently read a list of “you might like…” books and wasn’t satisfied. It had the usual literary-friendly pre-genre picks like Arthur Machen and some other great books like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, but … they really aren’t anything like the show. Stranger Things owes a lot to the following sources: Firestarter by Stephen King, also It and  Carrie and its clone The Fury, and Stand by Me. The works of H.P. Lovecraft. PoltergeistAkira, and the video game Silent Hill. There are nods to Aliens and the nerdy kids who all ring perfectly true reference things they love like The Hobbit and the Star Wars movies. And their favorite teacher is a clueless science nerd, who shows his date The Thing on VHS.

Here are some books I’ve read that reminded me of Stranger Things in a good way:

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons. There are scenes in this novel that still haunt me. It’s similar to It, but so much more concise and darker. Four young kids growing up in a town haunted by the evil of its past, which they must confront to save their lives.

Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale. Not quite as perfect as his masterpiece The Bottoms, but when a local girl goes missing, her oddball friends go on a Huck Finn-like adventure to find her, while avoiding the evil Skunk who haunts the swamps of the Sabine River. The Bottoms has young Harry witnessing a murder and trying to save a black friend from being lynched for it, and is possibly Lansdale’s best.

In the Woods, by Tana French. The first one by the master crime writer is darker and more haunting. Before Rob Ryan was police, as a young boy he was found tied to a tree in the woods near an ancient altar. The other two boys were never found. Now the land is about to be razed for developments and he goes seeking answers, as he remembers nothing of that night.

The stories of Laird Barron. The Children of Old Leech are even worse than the otherworldly Thing in Stranger Things and they also love to hide in the boles of trees. Start with The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

The Loney, by Andrew Michael Hurley. Another creepy childhood tale of a family’s yearly visit to an old Christian shrine in the hopes of healing their learning disabled youngest boy. The miracle occurs, but the source is something far more sinister.

My own short novella The Summer of Blind Joe Death is a weird tale set in ’20s Appalachia, where two young boys face the greatest evil there is.

And if you want to read a Megan Abbott novel about a missing child that will haunt you, it’s The End of Everything you want. One of my favorites.

Have you watched the series? What did you think? And what books or series would you recommend, to those who loved it?

 

 

 

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

One of the most polarizing films of late is THE WITCH by Roland Eggers, a brutal period piece. Another brutal period piece, The Revenant, nearly won Best Picture, but left many wondering why.

I take on both these films at Criminal Element. Black Phillip is not amused:

$RREP3AL

 

now available: The Summer of Blind Joe Death, a coming of age novelette

TheSummerOfBlindJoeDeathv2

My chilling coming of age novelette is now available as a standalone e-book:

Wade and his best friend Red Collins have only lived eleven summers, but the one they’ll remember for the rest of their lives is when Blind Joe Death visited their holler, spinning tales of deadly haints and black dogs that steal souls in the night.

Wade lost his father in the mines, and Red wishes his were dead. When the boys invite this strange hoodoo man into their lives they learn that the real monsters walk on two feet and sit beside us in church, and there is no darkness colder than what lurks within the human heart.

Inspired by the “Silver John” stories of Manly Wade Wellman and the music of John Fahey, this story set in the hollows of Appalachia is one of my favorites. I’m offering it for only 99 cents, because it’s a story I would love to be read far and wide.

It’s available now for Kindle and iBooks; it will take a few days for the rest to percolate through the ether. I’ll update the links here as they become available. If you don’t do e-books, this 35 page novelette first appeared in Protectors: Stories to Benefit PROTECT, as “Black Shuck,” and you can buy the paperback here.

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble Nook

Apple iBooks

Kobo Bookstore

Scribd

PageFoundry

Announcing Cruel Yule, a ThugLit Holiday anthology

I am poud to announce that my story “Letters to Santa,” a deceptively innocuous titled horror tale that greatly entertained the crowd at Tumulty’s for the most recent Noir at the Bar NJ, will appear in ThugLit‘s first Holiday themed anthology, where it is among great company:

The perps: Rob Hart, Hilary Davidson, Angel Colon, Terrence McCauley, Johnny Shaw, Jen Conley, Angel Colon, Thomas Pluck, Ed Kurtz, Jordan Harper and Todd Robinson.

Cruel Yule cover

A release date has not been set. But you’ll want this one. A teaser opening line from “Letters to Santa.”

Letters to Santa - Noir Bar Quote

Good Reads and Goodbyes

I left GoodReads recently. And I also deleted my 15 year old IMDb account. One reason was that these ratings are monetized, but another is that stars don’t tell the whole story. It was a personal decision, not a matter of principle. I am a reader and a writer, but not so much a reviewer. I found both sites useful, but not enough to share my stars with them. As you may have read, authors sometimes behave badly on Goodreads. I am reasonably sure I wouldn’t, but now that’s a certainty.

So here are a few books and films I’ve enjoyed recently, and why. It’s the month of Halloween, so some of these are creepy.

I just started WEIRDO by Cathi Unsworth, and I’m enjoying it very much. Some of that is ’80s nostalgia and old punk camaraderie, but she has a fine voice, a sneaky and subtle one that stands back and lets the story tell itself. The story is about a young woman who was institutionalized for the ritual murder of a fellow schoolmate, and a PI and activist who want to shed light on her trial, because she may not have acted alone. It has echoes of the “Paradise Lost” murders of Robin Hood Hills, the Satanic Panic of the early ’80s, and how anyone who was a “weirdo” felt back then, when having rocks thrown at you was commonplace.

PHANTASM, the infamous 1979 horror film by Don Coscarelli, who went on to direct Bubba Ho-Tep and John Dies at the End, was a blast. Yes, it’s cheap and cheesy and low-budget, but they managed great creepiness and well-spent gore with what they had. The Tall Man certainly is memorable, and what he’s doing with those corpses… well, it reminds me of another book I just finished, which was excellent:

THE CRONING by Laird Barron is a modern Lovecraftian masterpiece, without the sickly xenophobia beneath the surface, and a paranoid touch of Pynchon as well. The story is a slow burn but is well worth the wait, I kept expecting it to become twee and quaint like James Blaylock’s The Last Coin (a personal favorite) but the adorable ineptitude of its protagonist has an all too chilling reason, and I wouldn’t rob you of that revelation. Simply one of the best books I’ve read this year and one of my favorite horror novels in a long time.

And not as creepy, I enjoyed COME HERE OFTEN? 53 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar. Edited by Sean Manning, it includes entries by Laura Lippmann, Frank Bill, Alissa Nutting, Andrew WK, Duffy McKagan, Malachy McCourt, Tom Franklin, and a host of journalists, writers, musicians, and more, giving us a tour of bars from McMurdo Station to the ’70s Lower East Side, sneak-drinking in Tehran, literary bars from Oxford Mississippi to remote islands in the Pacific, James Crumley’s favorite watering holes, and more. A handsome little volume full of interesting reading.

But if you want some good scary reading, you can do worse than Flavorwire’s 50 scariest stories. I’m reading my way through the list. In daytime. With the lights on….

 

 

D.O.A. II: An Extreme Horror Collection

I have a story in Blood Bound Books latest collection, D.O.A. II. As the title suggests, it is horror, and not spooky tales to tell in the dark horror, but extreme horror. My story “Slice of Life” appears, as well as short stories by horror master Jack Ketchum and many others.

If you want to see what I do when someone wants horror, this is your chance. Psychological and extremely physical all in one nasty little package.
It is available for Kindle and Trade Paperback.

D.O.A. II Extreme Horror

Evil Dead

Disclaimer: my cousin Lou Taylor plays Eric in this film. Some of my enjoyment was derived from watching him suffer demonic abuse from a Home Depot aisle of deadly implements, but I genuinely loved this “redo” of the classic and think it is one of the best modern horror films to be released of late, and certainly the best remake since Dawn of the Dead.

my cousin being a wuss
my cousin being a wuss

If you don’t know the original The Evil Dead, it is an extremely low budget brutal horror film made by fans of the Three Stooges. There is a bit of extremely dark humor. The original is pretty bare bones. Guy shows up at deserted cabin with his girlfriend. Demons of the forest possess their friend in the most repugnant way imaginable, and Ash, played by Bruce Campbell, cuts up the baddies and his demonic love with a chainsaw.

The “sequel/remake”Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is superior in every way, and EVIL DEAD (2013) takes from both and makes the bloodiest, goriest horror film I’ve seen in a long time. Is it scary? It’s gut wrenching. There is plenty of tension. I do not jump or get scared at horror films anymore. But during EVIL DEAD, I gasped and cheered and laughed and groaned.

Jane Levy from Suburgatory in purgatory

The basics are all there. The Necronomicon (never so named) bound in human skin, full of medieval woodcuts and guttural prayers for the summoning of demons. A small group of hapless young innocents about to succumb to ancient evil. And a cabin built to resemble the iconic one from The Evil Dead (down to a rusty Oldsmobile, “the Classic,” that appears in most of Raimi’s films).

Eric, played by Lou, is the dumb-ass who reads the evil book. I recently toured Bourbon Street with my cousin and know his tics and behavior. His Eric is so damn good I didn’t recognize my own blood up there. The rest of the cast is equally impressive, and the director Fede Alvarez approaches the material with just enough respect. There is no obvious gushing wankery. No one does anything completely and unutterably stupid to advance the plot, other than read from a strange book. And let’s face it, I’d read the book. I’m that kind of dummy. I read books full of naked witches that I found in houses my father was demolishing. I could have summoned a Candarian demon.

The gore is unrelenting. There are just enough laughs- one poor bastard loses a lot of limbs, and a nailgun is used to great effect. But you never know who will survive and who will get a chainsaw up the ying-yang. And that is the movie’s power. Unlike the goofiness of FEAST, which shot its “anyone can die!!” wad in the first five minutes, EVIL DEAD plays with our expectations but always by its own rules. If you like horror, forget the first film. Accept that Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell gave their ideas to a fresh new director, who eschewed CGI and jump-cut scares to make the same kind of movie they did thirty-plus years ago.

And pray that they make a sequel that merges Ash from the end of Army of Darkness as a bitter old one-armed crank with the survivor of this film to battle Candarian hellbeasts in Evil Dead 2: Hell on Earth. or something. I’ll write the script, Fede. Just tell Lou to call me.

With that smile I might be possessed by a Candarian demon...
With that smile I might be possessed by a Candarian demon…