What makes a good Halloween story?
It goes without saying it’s got to be horror. But there are certain stories that evoke that whimsical October chill better than others.
Well, October certainly came on fast.
I spent a big chunk of the summer working in northwestern Ontario. It’s a beautiful part of the country, with vast forests and countless lakes and inlets dotted with campgrounds and lodges. (I was reminded of a certain type of eighties movie we all love). I saw lots of wildlife, including a moose on the highway, a bald eagle perched on top of our office, and a black bear fifteen feet from me on the downtown sidewalk.
Oh, and did I mention that our office was haunted? So yeah, I had a blast.
Stephen Graham Jones’ novel My Heart is a Chainsaw is a bloody feast
for horror fans.
The book is essentially Jones’ version of Scream, a mystery slasher about
people who know they’re in one. It’s the kind of book that makes you want to
watch all the movies it celebrates, then re-read just so you can catch all the
references. Not only is every chapter named after a different slasher, they’re
also bookended by chatty essays about the genre.
These are ostensibly written by Jade, a horror-obsessed high school senior who
is the first to suspect a serial killer may be loose in her small town of
Jade is a fantastic character: a disgruntled goth who moves through life
with empathy despite never catching a break herself. (Early on, she’s rescued
from a watery suicide attempt only to be sentenced to community service for
“misusing the town canoe.”) It’s no wonder she doesn’t object when bodies start
piling up. At least when you’re living in a horror movie, the rules are clear.
This girl lives and breathes slashers, and she knows all the rules. She even
identifies Proofrock’s perfect final girl – the lovely Letha Mondragon – and
sets out to convince her that she’s the town’s only hope. Jade’s the latest in
a string of Jones protagonists who jump to outlandish conclusions and then
recklessly act on them – but unlike Sawyer in Night of the Mannequins
and the unfortunate men of The Only Good Indians, Jade turns out to be
right. About most things, anyway.
Jones serves up red herrings by the jarful, with no character (living or
dead) above suspicion. Proofrock’s history includes not only a mass murder at a
campground (classic!), but also a mysterious fire, a puritan pastor whose entire
congregation drowned, and an undead witch. Not to mention a cabal of
multi-millionaires building mansions along the lake, several with dark secrets
of their own.
The solution to the mystery is outlandish and chaotic, yet totally
consistent with Jones’ brand of meta nightmare logic. (Truth be told, it’ll
probably take a re-read to make sense of everything).
Along the way, Jade’s forced to reckon with personal traumas that make movie
murders seem tame by comparison. Jones handles her backstory respectfully, with
a matter-of-factness that avoids the usual exploitative cliches; Jade’s
experiences shape her personality, but they’re never used cheaply as motivations
or sources of “inner strength.”
The book ends on a note of dangerous beauty and subtle revelation – hope
without false closure.
I could see the headline already as the bus lurched, front wheel careening into a ditch: Mass murder survivors killed on route to therapy retreat. But the driver corrected, got himself back on the road, no harm no foul. One more near miss.
For Friday the 13th, a tale of harbingers and doom averted:
This’ll be a bit of a long one (aren’t they all?), so I’ll dispense with a lengthy intro. Read on for the details on my latest story, some poetry news, and a lengthy selection of movie, music, and book recommendations. (And vacation photos!)
Dear Rouge played their first live show since the pandemic at the Calgary Stampede on Saturday.
Magician Isaac Plank owned a book of obscene spells and a collection of oddities from around the world. But Isaac is dead now, and his father – respectable accountant Lawrence Plank – has put his estate up for auction.
After a local hoarder buys his spell book, she brings Isaac back from beyond the grave and inadvertently unleashes an army of cursed knickknacks. Now, Lawrence and Isaac must do battle against reanimated taxidermy, flesh-eating shrunken heads, an angry mob, and a vengeful mummy who yearns to rule again.
The Doom That Came to Mellonville is a macabre horror comedy in the vein of Beetlejuice, The ‘Burbs, and Reanimator.
Coming soon from Filthy Loot.
After taking an accidental COVID lockdown hiatus, I am back with a dose of the miracle elixir in my arm and exciting news to share.
A little story written for World Goth Day 2021, inspired by the Type O Negative song “Green Man” and Peter Steele’s former job at the N.Y.C. Parks Department:
PARKS DEPARTMENT, the man’s uniform read.
He towered like a tree, nest of hair tied back hastily, the long limb descending from his right arm sprouting a clamp to cleanse the earth. With mechanical efficiency it picked up a yellow wrapper, a snow-white issue stained with grease, crumpled plastic. Into the black they went, and the world was clean.
Above his head, branches budded.
The man cursed as he overextended himself to capture a crushed Coke can, throwing out his back. “Reprobates,” he muttered at the absent litterers. His broad shoulders hunched, he raised a hand to massage what had been torn.
Not old at all, in the scheme of things, but every season his body felt a little more brittle. Maybe it was a sign. How many years had he been working here? Hundreds, it seemed.
In the canopy, robins chirped and a raven squawked to shut them up. There being no humans around, he leaned on his grabber stick and griped to the birds. The job, the union, the management.
Only the weather, cloudless with sun streaming through the branches, didn’t piss him off today.
When the trees were bare and the last of the leaves had been raked and bagged, he’d be laid off for the winter. He’d pocket his last paycheque and wait for the last of the maintenance crews to leave before slipping under the USE AT YOUR OWN RISK sign and descending back into the park. Then, as he did every year, he’d scrape away a layer of snow (seven feet by four, a large man’s grave), lie down, and sink into the dirt.
And his warmth would be leeched away by the roots of the shrivelled grass and skeleton trees, a reminder for them that the cold wouldn’t last. And he would sleep.
Until spring broke and the roots started tickling his toes and pulling at his hair. “Can’t a man get some rest?” he’d snap, his voice like the dead leaves trapped under the snow.
But he’d let the sprouting foliage push him upward, and the newborn branches reach down to pull him to his feet. And like every year, he’d shave the moss from his face, trim his leafy brows, pull on his green uniform, and clock in for work.
It was a living.
(C) Madison McSweeney
It’s perhaps an understatement that 2020 has not been a great year for anybody.
Thankfully, it’s been a very good year for movies and music (even though performing artists and theatres are struggling to keep their heads above water). Listed below are a number of this past year’s finest films and albums, to keep you occupied until the lockdown ends:
Thanks for checking out my annual Halloween special! I know everyone’s busy today carving pumpkins and stalking babysitters and punishing all those who don’t make the annual tribute, so let’s dive right in!