Saturday, October 19, 2013

Review: Peter Rawlik's "Reanimators"

Seriously, check out this cover. You'd
have to be some kind of moron not
to want to read it immediately.
Reanimators (2013) [Amazon]
Peter Rawlik

Why did I buy it?
Just look at that pulpy cover. Art Deco out the wazoo, two guys with syringes full of glowing fluid in an old-timey cityscape, postures clearly suggesting action and pursuit! Plus it promises to tell—even expand upon!—Herbert West's story through the perspective of an apparently rather determined nemesis! While David Gale's flying severed head has left any purported rival to Dr. West with some pretty big shoes to fill, I'm a total sucker for this "new side of an old story" approach (Philip José Farmer, who once wrote a Tarzan story as if it had been written by William S. Burroughs instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs, was the all-time grandmaster), and have almost zero sales resistance. So I grabbed it off the shelf while hunting for candidates for the Fact Desk and vowed to read it.

How is it?
It starts off in the grand pulp tradition, with an agitated narrator promising to explain where all those bodies came from. We soon find ourselves caught up in the first few chapters of Lovecraft's original 6-part serial "Herbert West, Reanimator" (check it out here), except this time we find out that zombie Dean Halsey's rampage left Dr. West with a pretty pissed-off nemesis in the form of the freshly-orphaned Dr. Stuart Hartwell. Our bereaved protagonist decides to dedicate his life to Revenge, and determines to beat West at the reanimation game while he's at it. It's not long before the novel's scope has expanded from the original events of HWR to include appearances by a number of prominent characters and events on the Lovecraftian timeline, from both the Old Man's own works and those of a few of his contemporaries. Sometimes the overlap is a local character whose own encounter with the unnameable lies in their future; sometimes we're treated to behind-the-scenes details that flesh out a familiar story, most notably "The Shadow out of Time" and "The Dunwich Horror." The danger of an approach like this is that readers who aren't familiar with Lovecraft's universe might end up feeling like they're sitting at a table with a bunch of horror geeks trading impenetrable in-jokes. While I can't speak from the perspective of those appallingly ignorant creatures, everything seems to be smoothly woven together into a tale that is enhanced by a knowledge of the classic works of the Cthulhu Mythos but stands alone just fine without it. No matter how well-versed you are, though, you're bound to find yourself occasionally turning to Wikipedia to see why a character's name sounds familiar, or whether Summerisle is where you think it is.
   One problem I had early on was the portrayal of Herbert West as a clueless bungler, constantly two or three steps behind his hidden nemesis. But wait! We all think of the amazing Jeffrey Combs when the name of that cursed Herbert West comes up, but that's the movie. If you go back to the source, you'll find that the original Dr. Herbert West wasn't exactly a sharply-defined character. Each chapter of the serialized story was intended to be a quick jab of horror, a slow burn build-up that drags out the revelation of a final shocking twist, like cramming five paragraphs between "hanging from the door handle..." and "...was a stainless steel hook!" West was just a nebulous blur, blond and bloody, without any particular character at all beyond "Mad Scientist." Once I got my fanboy outrage under control, his hapless fumbling was easier to take. Even better, the novel's focus soon relegates Dr. West to the sidelines, offering all manner of ichorous delights as Dr. Hartwell finds that he just can't get away from the weird shit. From zombie outbreaks to the bloody trenches of World War I, even if you just can't get over your beloved Herbert West being slandered as a dunce, there should be more than enough else in the book to keep you happy.

Look, I don't have time to read all this crap. Sum it up!
Overall, Reanimators is a terrific throwback to the glory days of pulp horror, and if you're not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft and the cosmic horrors he introduced to the world, it'll definitely whet your appetite for the classic works that started it all. Why not start with two of the finest collections of Cthulhu Mythos tales on the market today, Ross E. Lockhart's The Book of Cthulhu and The Book of Cthulhu II? I swear, I'm going to do a proper review of those soon!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Michael McDowell's "The Elementals"

Scary face!
Book review time! People don't read enough books. Why? Probably for the same reason that underlies most human behavior: appalling ignorance. Luckily for you squishy-brained apelings, I'm here to chip away at the horrible granite block of Ignorance and point you toward some classic works of literary horror. Today, thanks to a vote from the reading public, I'll be taking a look at Michael McDowell's The Elementals.
Fans of Tim Burton and obscure trivia might recognize Michael McDowell as the writer of the first and much darker draft of Beetlejuice, but clever rats like me and honorary rat Stephen King1 know him as the creator of some of the finest Southern horror ever to see print. His work is often labeled Southern Gothic, but since I've never been able to find two people who can agree on exactly what Gothic horror is, I'm just going to avoid talking about that. His main works3 are all well grounded in the South, though, whether the beasts of a particular nightmare are supernatural forces (as in The Elementals or The Amulet) or just your fellow primates behaving in that uniquely horrible, uniquely human way that you all comfort yourselves by calling "inhuman" (Gilded Needles or Toplin).
The Elementals begins with two very different families, united by friendship and eventually by marriage, coming together for a funeral. The Savages are proper old-school Southern quasi-aristocrats, steeped in tradition and secrets; the McCrays are bold and brash, none more so than matriarch Big Barbara, happily drinking her way through life. Dauphin Savage and Leigh McCray, who united the bloodlines in marriage, are there; even Barbara's son Luker and his precocious daughter India, refugees who fled Alabama for the Manhattan nightlife years ago, have come back to the Gulf Coast to bid their farewells to the late and unlamented Marian Savage.
After the creepy funeral and some horrific talk of Savage family history, the two families retire for a lengthy getaway at Beldame, three ornate Victorian houses built on a little spit of land that sticks out into the Gulf of Mexico. Far from any sign of civilization, its isolation is increased twice a day when high tide swamps the only road and turns Beldame into an island. The Savages and McCrays each traditionally occupy one of the houses on their yearly outings, while the third house... well, no one goes into the third house anymore. It's slowly disappearing under the dunes, the gleaming white sand of the Gulf drifting relentlessly over it. And if there's something in that house, something living in the sand that's poured in through the broken windows? Probably nothing to really worry about. The Savages and McCrays have been coming to Beldame for years, and nothing horrible has ever happened, give or take. Sure, there's been the occasional death or disappearance, but nobody could ever prove the third house had anything to do with it. You don't stay out of the ocean just because there might be a shark or two swimming around somewhere out there, do you? Just use your common sense and everything will be fine.
This is why The Elementals is one of the scariest books I've ever read. You see, all monsters have rules. They may seem invincible at first, but no matter how much of a bad-ass the beastie of the week might be, sooner or later the survivors-so-far are going to huddle around a professor or grimoire or crotchety old-timer and ask, How do we kill it? Learning the monster's rules changes the narrative from human smorgasbord to heroic battle. It turns an unstoppable supernatural killing machine into a problem to be solved, one more trophy over humanity's fireplace. Find the monster's rules, and you're halfway to victory and a sweet freeze-frame high-five.
What happens, though, when you meet a monster who knows you're looking for its rules, a monster that's perfectly happy to let you outrun it, knowing you'll be back some day with a smug spring in your step and no clue just how fast it really is? A ravenous fiend that wants to eat your face is one thing, but a patient fiend that wants to fuck with you? That is no fun, and that's what's waiting in the third house.
One thing McDowell does very well indeed is evoke a strong sense of place. The placid Gulf, the blank white expanses of sand, and above all the third house always looming in the background are vivid and real, a well-lit stage for the horrors to come that nevertheless feels haunted by shadows and the things that hide in them. Draped over it all is the crushing heat of the Gulf Coast summer, a constant presence that practically steams right off the page, affecting anything that anyone does during the day, and even much of the night. The dread that steadily escalates under this suffocating blanket of humid air gives everything a nightmarish quality, like a sneak preview of the knee-deep molasses you're going to have to wade through when the monsters finally run out of patience.
Now that I've convinced you that you need to read this book, how can you get one? Find a copy here! Then read it, and get ready for the next review, because you've got a lot of catching up to do.

1. Stephen King called Michael McDowell "the finest writer of paperback originals in America today2."
2. That particular today was in 1985.
3. He wrote under several different pseudonyms, but all his horror novels were released under his own name.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Coming Attractions!

Hey, look! It's a whole new Web-exclusive too-hot-for-TV promo for next week's episode! That episode, by the way, will be "The Manster", in case you're too lazy to watch the video. Slacker.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Ian watched from his slouch in the backyard hot tub as lights snapped on one by one in the windows of the house he was being paid to watch over for the week, the house that had been empty a few minutes ago. Behind the curtains of each room, gaunt silhouettes leaned and shifted uncertainly, moving with the sluggishness of the prematurely awakened. When he heard the latch of the patio door click open, he tried to make himself as small as he could, hunkering down in the churning water, but not too far, because there was no way he wasn't going to finish off this bowl before whatever was about to happen happened.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Got the 'Bies

OK, so I've got a parody of DEVO's "Girl U Want" trying to get out of my head, one that would tell the story of Old Yeller. So far, I've got what I believe to be the emotional core of the work:
Look at him with his mouth foamin' up!
Look at him with his eyes spinnin'!
Why don't you just admit it's all over?
Old Yeller's got the 'bies!
This obviously raises the question, What the sweet pale hell is wrong with me? I do not know. I know that I fear to continue, for were I to succeed, then there would be, extant in our world, a parody of DEVO's "Girl U Want" that tells the story of Old Yeller, and if that's possible, then you have to ask yourself what the fuck else might be possible and the next thing you know your neurons are reconfiguring into eldritch alignments and whoops! here come the Great Old Ones tearing their way back into our world through your neural net, and as the director of the porn parody of Star Wars said to the confused actor in the cantina orgy scene, FUCK THAT.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Penelope was feeling pretty good about her first few steps toward a new "under her own control" life, and it wasn't until the crescendoing shriek of the town's emergency siren, carried through the afternoon on a bed of choking black smoke laced with screams of agony, was cut off by a shuddering roar that cracked half of her carefully polished windows that the first traces of doubt creeped into her thoughts. Had she been cowardly to invoke the wrath of Zalgrath the Devourer upon the entire town just to avoid the awkwardness of quitting her job at the county records office with no notice?

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Rave in the Cave

The steady thrum of club music was sometimes loud, sometimes faint, but always somewhere just ahead as Mark stumbled through the damp tunnels, chasing the dimming white circle cast by his flashlight. The tattered printout of directions to the so-called "Cattacombe Rayve" he clutched in one hand had stopped being useful the fourth or fifth time he'd face-planted into the thin layer of water that covered the irregular floor, but he refused to let go. As long as he was holding it, he could cling to the hope of finding his way out again.
   He was sure he must be getting close, if only because there couldn't be too many more tunnels he hadn't already explored. The music was definitely growing steadily louder, and he picked up his pace as he stepped around one last unremarkable corner to find himself face-to-face with a pair of hunched, goatish figures, lounging against brick walls on either side of the path, long-faced, hairy and reeking of blood. They looked him up and down, red eyes gleaming. "All right, this gotta be the last one. So full can barely fuckin' move," croaked the slightly fatter one.
   The slightly larger one belched and added, "Gotta love Craigslist," before slapping a hand on a battered boombox, silencing the dubsteb that filled the air, the diminishing bass echoes fleeing through the maze of passages. The cheap radio tipped forward from its precarious perch atop an untidy pile of the chewed and torn remains of party-seekers, slipping down the slope to rest in a tangle of organs. Mark was still staring blankly at it, desperately trying to find just one thing in this scene he could make sense of, when a gnarled fist slammed into his skull. He dropped, the world spinning. As he lay immobile on the chill concrete, his brain decided against his will to start counting the individual heads, cracked open and wetly gaping, scattered in front of him, but a second blow that came swooping lazily down from out of the dark put a merciful stop to that.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Frank had a long history of letting his temper overwhelm his common sense, so when the cold glare of the basement fluorescents revealed a hideous figure crouched on his freezer, stuffing a mouth like a demonic garbage disposal with handfuls of the Kobe beef he'd left out to thaw, he launched into a fit of bellowing outrage that the more rational parts of his brain were too paralyzed with terror to prevent; the creature, in turn, was so startled by the outburst that Frank lived a full six seconds longer than any previous human who had encountered one of its kind.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Little Fable, by Franz Kafka

"Ach," said the mouse, "the world grows narrower every day. At first it was so broad that I was frightened, I just kept running and was glad to finally see, left and right in the distance, walls; but these long walls have drawn together so quickly that I'm already in the last room, and there in the corner is the trap I'm running into."
"You only have to run in a different direction," said the cat, and ate her.

Monday, August 19, 2013


[This following is a graphic example of what happens when a rat tries to write a two-line horror story, then refuses to stop. Logorrhea: know the warning signs.]

The man, tossing and turning in the humid night air, sneezed himself suddenly awake, awkwardly swiping at his prickling nose with a half-numb arm. "Gesundheit," rasped a voice from out of the darkness of his bedroom. There was a deathly silence, broken only by the tinny whine of the earbuds that insulated the bed's occupant from the outside world as he drifted back to sleep. "Oh, godDAMMIT," muttered the man dressed in the shabby tatters of institutional pajamas, an oversized feather he'd found elsewhere in the house clutched in one red fist. He let it fall to the floor and reached into a bag at his feet. "You try to show a little flair... these fucking kids today." Hefting a hammer in one hand, he braced himself for the messy part.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Two-Minute Mysteries!

Lulled by the swaying of the train car, Martin was slumped half-asleep in his seat, eyes drifting closed, when he became aware of his seatmate out of the corner of his eye. He'd barely paid attention some stops back when the man had heaved himself into the seat beside him with a weary grunt, a vague blur of generic business attire topped with a shiny pink head. As long as they didn't try to strike up a conversation, Martin could put up with anyone. Luckily, the man had pulled a battered paperback from his coat pocket and settled back to read, almost immediately dissolving into the background.
   Now, though, Martin could sense a pink blur to his left, as if the man had leaned forward in his seat. In fact, he got the distinct impression that the man was looking at him. Not past him, out the window at the occasional lights drifting past in the darkness, but directly at him. He didn't know how he knew, but the longer he sat tensely in his seat, trying to mimic the steady breathing of sleep, the more sure he became that his seatmate's attention was directed right at him.
   He didn't dare betray himself by tilting his head for a better look, but with his own head bowed so far forward in fake sleep, he couldn't see the man's face clearly. Keeping his eyelids as close to shut as he could get them, he strained to make out something definite through the quivering blur of his lashes. He had no rational reason why he didn't want the man to know he was awake and aware, but he still felt the impulse for stealth. The side of his face started to burn under the imagined scrutiny.
   Continuing to keep his breathing steady, Martin relaxed and stared straight ahead, trying to focus all his attention on his peripheral vision. The jumbled blur of pink, white, and black started to coalesce into a face, a grotesque grimace, eyes bugged out, mouth wrenched wide, tongue drooping down to below the chin. The expression didn't fit on the face, it was too big in one direction or another, but Martin was afraid to turn his head and look at the man directly. What would he do if it wasn't an optical illusion?
   It was all he could do not to shudder, but then, the image was so vague, he couldn't be sure he wasn't imagining it. Most likely the guy was just looking out the window, leaning in closer now, probably because they were passing through a town, an island of light in the sea of dark. He fought the urge to pull away from the imagined contact as the man loomed closer, his flushed pink face an angry blur that was threatening to resolve into detail at any second. Feigning the abrupt jerk of a man awakened from sleep, Martin lifted his head and looked around, jerking his arms up defensively before seeing to his surprise that his seatmate was slumped in a deep slouch, book clutched weakly in a hand draped across his lap, sound asleep.

   All right, all you sharp-eyed Junior Detectives, tonight's Mystery Question is... Who is that guy standing behind you?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Punk Rock Girl

Since I'm rapidly becoming a local horror celebrity, at least in my own fevered mutant imagination, I figured I'd better start doing some stuff to justify my existence. Hence, this blog, and now... book reviews! Please bear with me as I learn, since my critical faculties aren't the most highly-developed in the world. My reviews generally sound like either, "Yeah, it was decent," or "Sucked a big dung dong." I'll try to offer a little more nuance than that going forward.
So, going forward, as one is wont to do, I--wait, when the hell did I slice a 2-centimeter gash in my thumb, apparently without even noticing? I don't recall toying with either blades or lasers today... or very thin wire... most vexing. Anyway, my first book review will be for the short novel (or novelissijous, to be more precise), "Chick Bassist," by noted editor, anagram fan, and certified Bigfoot Non-Sighter, Ross E. Lockhart. I will also eventually be reviewing his two "Book of Cthulhu" anthologies of Lovecraftian tales, but to save time, you should go ahead and just buy them now, before my persuasive powers can whip you into a frenzy of reckless consumerism. And now, the review!

What happens when a band breaks up? Most people, if you asked them, would guess something like "mass suicide atop a pyre of flaming records." These imaginary people are stupid and ignorant. The truth is that ex-bandmates scatter in different directions like neutrons bursting from a fission reaction, but without the whole nuclear holocaust and all. The scattered neutrons that once made up the recently-exploded band Heroes for Goats, however, aren't as charge-neutral as they think--one of them is arcing inevitably through Punkspace toward another on a rage-fueled rocket scooter. Bay Area word wrangler Ross Lockhart's "Chick Bassist" traces those somewhat wobbly paths in detail, hopping through the points of view of each of the band members as they blearily make their way toward whatever reconfigured, but maybe not quite as Goats-free as they expected, destiny awaits. As William Faulkner said, "The past is never dead. It's not even past."* More dare I say not, lest I reveal too much!
While the book is thin, the author doesn't waste any words, setting a properly punk rock pace that pulls you right through the story without letting up. Occasional pauses to take a mental breath are recommended, as is the playing of whatever music might be mentioned in the text as you go (the Internet is the biggest jukebox in history--use it before someone ruins it completely). The use of different voices for the different points of view that the story cycles through fortunately comes across as more than just a gimmick. Each is compelling to read for a different reason as you follow along for a while in the lives of a few people who, deep down, aren't entirely sure whether they're on their way up or down.
Hey, I just realized I can claim allegiance with punk rock pioneers like the Ramones and those scuzzy overrated fucks the Sex Pistols by keeping my review quick and punchy! That's such an awesome excuse for half-assing my way through a book review that I'm not even going to bother faking it. So, closing thoughts? Two: Jennifer Army may even be a better name for a fictional band than Three-Arm Sally, and this review wasn't that hard to write, so I assume I've bungled it in catastrophic fashion. Whee, defeat is liberating!

*No, I am not sucking up for MENSA Bonus Points, I just really love that quote.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

For the Advancement of Linguistics

So, as I have mentioned before, please get to work on coming up with a way to determine if there's anyone else in the room with you without sounding like a scared little kid. Seriously, this needs to happen. Like, pretend there's a society where, for whatever psychological/sociological/philosophical reason* people automatically snap when someone says, "Slap me snaps, Paps." So, upon detecting That Feeling When You're Alone Etc., you'd mutter to yourself, as if just absent-mindedly, "Slap me snaps, Paps." Then, if you heard a snap or more, you'd know you were about to get pranked or stabbed or whatever.
Obviously, we are not fortunate enough to live in a society kind enough to make this task, if you'll forgive the pun, so fucking simple. Thus, I call upon you, my dozens of fans, followers, hangers-on, roadies, groupies, gropees, sidekicks, entourage, and/or kids in the hall, set your collective mind to this task, and produce for the world to cherish and, let's hope, actually use, some smooth-sounding and dignity-maintaining way to find out if you actually are alone in the room. Although, honestly, I'll probably have forgotten about it by morning. I'm mostly just writing this to test my blogging thingy, which is apparently part of Google now? Are they still projected to own everything by 2017?

Fun Fact: In that hypothesized dystopia, ninja pupils would have their thumbs mutilated so that they could never snap again.