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:
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.
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!
Appears in: When the World Stopped: A Collection of Infectious Stories (Owl Hollow Press)
Release Date: October 2020
Summary: Sophie’s quarantine takes an odd turn when she develops a telepathic connection with the sketchy guy loitering near her building. A pseudoscientific rom-com about these weird times.
Buy a copy of When the World Stopped from Owl Hollow Press.
Appears in: On Time (Transmundane Press)
Release Date: Sept. 27/2020
Summary: A dimension-hopping war arrives at a downtown police station after a trailer on cinder blocks materializes in the middle of traffic. The young woman in the holding cell has a strange story to tell – if she lives long enough.
Buy a copy of On Time from Transmundane Press.
Appears in: Night Frights Issue #1 (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing)
Release Date: Sept. 13/2020
Summary: Concerned about its influence on students, the teachers at Miskatonic Elementary School decide to cancel Halloween. Deprived of their annual tribute, a cabal of monsters and demons plot their nastiest trick yet.
Buy a copy of Night Frights from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing.
Appears in: Weird Mask (Issue 24)
Release Date: May/2020
Summary: Two globetrotting academics, one British, one American, get stranded in a storm. As the rains fall and the sky darkens, they find shelter in a mountain shack, realizing too late that this sanctuary may be more dangerous than the wilderness they sought refuge from.
Buy a copy of Weird Mask, or keep reading below.
Reading Brendan Vidito’s Nightmares in Ecstasy is like entering a basement laboratory to find hundreds of unspeakable things sealed in jars, peering through the murk to glimpse eyeballs and tentacles and other mutated appendages that appear unnervingly human, but somehow not.