The Big Adios

Because we all go a little crazy sometimes… meditations on all things noir and hard-boiled.

Netflix has been releasing a stunning series of original horror films for the past few years, making it a worthy competitor for Blumhouse, Ghost House, and Lions Gate. The democratization of horror distribution brought about by the explosion of streaming have led many talented indie directors to eschew the studio system and find a more flexible home with those who prefer to view first-run movies in their own homes rather than in a cinema.

As I grew up in the great ’70s era of drive-in features and grind house cinema, I have to say that the nostalgic part of me winces at the new trend, but as an avid consumer of pop culture horror, the bigger part of me is thrilled at the freedom given to young filmmakers who have found a new home at Netflix, which has been at the forefront of creative, quirky horror directors for some time now.

The impact has led to a new renaissance in horror, and the big studios have been racing to keep up. Even films with an indie feel like Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the upcoming Us are Universal Studio Productions. But for consistent quality productions, Netflix stands out.

Below are some of my favorite Netflix original horror films, movies that chilled me to the core in the quiet solitude of my own home.

HUSH (2016)

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Hush was a breakthrough film for the incredibly talented writer/director Mike Flannigan,  who later went on to direct a stunning series of original films for Netflix and is currently helming the much anticipated Doctor Sleep, Steven King’s sequel to The Shining.

Hush was a stunning film, rejecting many of the horror film tropes to focus on a strong, deaf female character. Not since 1967’s Wait Until Dark, has a film effectively dealt so compassionately with a disabled main character in the worst of situations.

Kate Siegel’s Maddie, a deaf author living in a secluded house in the woods, finds herself terrorized by a masked psychopath who takes perverse interest in her disability. The cat-and-mouse game that ensues not only highlights the ignorant perceptions regarding the deaf community, but also provides for one one the most nail-biting climaxes in modern cinema.

Hush is terrifying, captivating, and extremely well-crafted.

 

The Ritual (2017)

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David Bruckner’s The Ritual is one of those rare films that is considerably better than the novel upon which it is based. Adam Nevill’s novel left me a bit off-put. There were moments of excruciating tension that were undercut by a rather pedestrian subplot involving young death metal fans that just struck a wrong chord for me.  Bruckner wisely dumped the death metal line and focused straight in on the horror in his filmic version, tightening the focus and bringing everything down to the bare roots.

And in doing so, he brings to the forefront the major themes of regret, guilt, and buried secrets that, once unearthed, bring the story to a shattering conclusion. This is a film in the people-out-of-their-element-finding-themselves-lost-in-the-primal-woods-genre that pulls no punches.

A group of four friends with a dark secret heads off for a hike through the dark Scandinavian woods to encounter a malevolent evil that hunts them relentlessly. Bruckner strips the film down to the bare, mythic elements of what happens when we stray off the path.

 

Bird Box (2018)

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Susanne Bier’s new film Bird Box, based on the stunning novel by Josh Malerman, brings nail-biting horror to a new level. Jumping back and forth between the arrival of strange entities on Earth who drive any who see them to violent suicide and the post-apocalyptic world five years later, Bird Box is a harrowing tale of survival, family, and very, very hard choices.

The film opens in a moment of excruciating tension as Sandra Bullock bluntly explains to her young children that they must keep their eyes shut and covered once they venture outside or else they will die. It’s a jarring and brutal opening to a stark and relentless film. Th jump back to five years earlier is no less jarring, as the world teeters on the edge of collapse as the bizarre suicides reach pandemic proportions. Bird Box takes the familiar small group of people under siege theme and creates some surprising twists, brining a fresh perspective to a time-worn narrative.

The cast is stellar, the direction sharp and tense, and the creeping sense of paranoia absolutely infectious. Like many of the films in this list, this movie saturates viewers in paranoia and danger, but ultimately ends with a sense of sacrifice, family bonds and hope.

 

Hold the Dark (2017)

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Jeremy Saulnier has  been on my radar for some time now. His psychological revenge film Blue Ruin left me breathless and his follow-up Green Room completely blew me out of the water.  Moving to Netfilix Originals, he expanded his filmic exploration of the impotent ritual of masculine revenge to a larger, mythic arena of cosmic forces and primal drives.

Set in a remote village in Northern Alaska, the film begins with the arrival of Russel Core (Jeffrey Wright), an expert on wolves who has been contacted by a young mother who claims that her son has been killed by a wolf pack haunting the village. The aptly-named Core has his own tragic history with his daughter, and agrees to hunt down the wolves, even though he has qualms about the whole endeavor.

What follows is a wintry tale as twisted as they come. Core soon discovers that the wolves aren’t responsible for the boy’s death. The father returns from active duty in the Middle East to exact his own revenge. Things escalate rapidly, and the body count rises.

What makes Saulnier such an amazing director is his exquisite detail in both intimate scenes of dialogue and long periods of silence that underscore the remote landscape of the film. When the violence erupts, it is all the more shocking. Not to give anything away, but an extended shoot-out in the middle of the film hits you like a sucker punch to the gut. Solnier doesn’t romanticize the violence… he shows the carnage, chaos, confusion, and raw pain for what it is.

To say any more about the film would be a travesty, as part of the joy of watching is being continually surprised by the twists and turns in the story, which can ultimately be summed up by Core’s explanation of “savaging” as a trait in pack animals. Watch the film to see his explanation and how it extends to the animal nature in humans as well.

 

The Haunting (2018)

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I’ve saved my favorite for last. Yes, this is a one-shot series rather than a feature film, but Mike Flannigan’s ten episode thriller is as exquisitely-crafted as any horror film this year. Loosely based on Shirley Jackson’s famous novel, this series takes off in a different direction while remaining true to the core of the original story.

Flashing back and forth between the present and the past, Hill House lays out the story of one family whose lives are forever altered by the odd and terrifying events in the crumbling old house they move into, hoping to renovate and flip it.

I’ve never seen the long-standing effects of childhood trauma played out so effectively and so believably in a horror film. All ghost stories are about the past living on in the present, and Hill House locks its focus on the horrifying legacy of trauma throughout the lives of Crain family, who each find their own dysfunctional way to navigate the horrors of their childhood: drug addiction, morbid attractions to death, sex addiction, writing horror stories… all serve only to push the horror back into the corners where it lies in wait for moments of vulnerability.

By the time the series reached its conclusion, a conclusion that deviates from Jackson’s novel by the changing of a single word of voice-over, I was tearing up, emotionally wrought by the sense of hope in the most hopeless of situations. For a year as dark as 2018 has been, Flannigan’s emphatic emphasis on hope makes Hill House stand head and shoulders above other horror films this year for its bold and unapologetic courage.

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Any attempt to list the best lines from any film genre is destined to provoke outrage and protest from readers. With that in mind, I’m audaciously throwing my hat into the ring and listing my five favorite bits of dialogue from crime and noir cinema.

Taste, as critic Terry Eagleton has noted, is a very individual thing tied intrinsically to our own subject positions and experiences. What we most value is shaped by inescapable social ideologies. Our value judgements refer in the end not simply to private taste, but to the assumptions of specific social groups.

So allow me to lay bare my own assumptions regarding the essence of crime cinema and what makes for the best lines that encapsulate either specific characters or the overall worldview of the gritty cinematic world.

I’ve avoided the better-known one-liners, the lines that jump out for their punchy memorability in favor of the ones that reflect philosophically on the themes of the films and give viewers pause to consider all that is implied in the well-crafted words. It’s all about context, friends.

In case you haven’t seen these films, be warned, for unavoidable spoilers follow.

 

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973)

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Eddie Coyle, the protagonist of this marvelous film based on the George V. Higgins novel, is a character straight out of Greek Tragedy.  A hopeless loser struggling to survive in the Boston underground world of mafia business, smuggling, and gun-running, Eddie has spent a long life never catching a break, seeking out a semi-living on the outskirts of the criminal world in which he finds himself. He can’t make it as a crook, can’t make it as a police snitch … can’t make it, period. Towards the film’s conclusion, as he awaits sentencing for an illegal sale of machine guns in a failed police sting, he thinks he’s off to a Bruins game with Dillon, another crime figure, the night before the law lands on him with full force.

Eddie, getting progressively drunk as his sentencing deadline looms, assumes Dillon and his young protege are taking pity on him, luring him into a false sense of criminal community. As the game enters the third period, Coyle remarks on the young Bruins player Bobby Orr:

“Can you imagine being a kid like that? What is he, 24 or something? Greatest hockey player in the world. Number four – Bobby Orr. Geeze, what a future he’s got, huh?”

Coyle extols nostalgically on the prospects of Orr’s future in a moment of tragic identification, secure in the knowledge that even though he was headed to prison, he still had his friends, never suspecting that Boyle was going to kill him later that night and leave his body outside a bowling alley in Dorchester.

This line perfectly captures Coyle’s role as the tragic figure in this tale, a man who never caught a break, yet never gave up hope.

 

THE THIRD MAN (1949)

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Harry Lime, the mysterious antagonist of Carol Reed’s post-war noir masterpiece, The Third Man, may well be one of the most engaging, charming, and throughly soulless villains in cinema. Lime, as played by Orson Welles, has relatively little screen time in the film, but his presence shadows every moment of the story.

As the film’s hero Holly Martins (played by Joesph Cotton) attempts to solve the mystery of his friend Lime’s supposed death, the horrifying truth of who his friend had become over the course of the war hammers him. Lime became increasingly involved in the Vienna black market, eventually selling diluted penicillin that caused severe brain damage to the children of the city.

When he finally confronts Lime, he listens to his friend’s rationalization for his behavior in one of the greatest moments in all of film dialogue:

“Don’t be so gloomy. After all, it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Lime’s justification wonderfully sums up the sociopathy created by war and horror, and cuts off any simplistic rejoinder from Martins. The insane logic of crimes of war and profit have never been expressed so powerfully in cinema.

 

 

M (1931)

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Fritz Lang’s masterpiece of German expressionism and critical social analysis is more than just a film that routinely shows up on film school syllabi.  It’s an astoundingly fresh, thoroughly engrossing film that rivals the best crime thrillers of today.

Peter Lorre plays Hans Beckert, a horrifying sociopathic serial killer driven by a compulsion to murder children in Berlin. His murders send the criminal underworld of the city upside down, as the increased police investigations begin to hamper their illegal trade. Lang’s film is firmly centered on the tensions between crimes of profit and crimes of compulsion, and at the conclusion, a kangaroo court of the criminal underworld eventually captures Beckert- not out of any sense of moral decency, but rather to allow them to continue to operate out of the eyes of the police. As Beckert is held accused by the heads of the city’s organized crime network, he utters a pitiful articulation of the difference between those who kill under a psychological compulsion and those who kill merely for profit:

“It’s there all the time, driving me out to wander the streets, following me, silently, but I can feel it there. It’s me, pursuing myself! I want to escape, to escape from myself! But it’s impossible. I can’t escape, I have to obey it. I have to run, run… endless streets. I want to escape, to get away! And I’m pursued by ghosts. Ghosts of mothers and of those children… they never leave me. They are always there… always, always, always!, except when I do it, when I… Then I can’t remember anything. And afterwards I see those posters and read what I’ve done, and read, and read… did I do that? But I can’t remember anything about it! But who will believe me? Who knows what it’s like to be me? How I’m forced to act… how I must, must… don’t want to, must! Don’t want to, but must! And then a voice screams! I can’t bear to hear it! I can’t go on! I can’t… I can’t…”

 

These lines are remarkable in that they, for a moment, elicit sympathy for the most heinous, unsympathetic of characters, due solely to Lang’s intricate and biting social satire. In a cinematic world populated by charismatic sociopathic madmen, Lorre’s performance of Beckert as a craven, cowardly, sweaty ball of pathological insecurities does more to drive home the ultimate horror of the fractured class divisions of German Weimar culture (and by extension all Western culture) than all the Hannibal Lecters and Patrick Batemans that followed in his wake.

 

CHINATOWN (1974)

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This is my only one-liner on this list, but it’s a killer that I couldn’t resist. Chinatown may well be the best of the Neo-noir thrillers (yes, even better than LA Confidential), and if I picked one line that could sum up everything about the film, this would be it:

Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

 

Chinatown, a word that enigmatically represents what is happening at the core of the film, is more than just a reductive metaphor. As cultural critic Michael Davidson has noted, cold-war masculinity and sexuality were often couched in narratives supported by narratives of disability and ethnic “otherness.” The Chinatown metaphor in this film represents not only the inscrutability of racial tensions in pre-WW2 Los Angeles, but also the connections between the city’s growing power structure and decadent family secrets, deviance, and a level of personal and public perversion that operated while horrific stereotypes of Asian populations held the public’s attention.  The “Chinatown” of the quote refers ultimately not to the Chinese residents of the LA community, but to the corrupt power brokers who controlled the city.

 

THEGODFATHER (1972)

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And I’ve saved my favorite for last. The Godfather is the grandaddy of crime films, with a long list of memorable lines :

I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

We’re going to the mattresses.”

“Lucca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes.”

But for me, the best line of the film is also the best in all of crime cinema. Abe Vigoda, playing Tessio, an underboss in the Corleone family, proves to be the final betrayer of Michael (Al Pacino) as Michael cements his role as the new Godfather.

After arranging for a meeting between Michael and the head of a competing Mafia family in which Michael will be killed, Tessio heads to the cars, believing that Michale has fallen for his ruse. He is stopped and informed that the plans have changed and he needs to get in the car without Michael. Tessio pauses for a moment, then realizes what is happening. The shift in Abe Vigoda’s face, the subtle shift from confidence to fear to resignation is so swift that it’s almost hard to catch. But when he turns to the family consigliere (Robert Duvall), his face betrays just a hint of hope in the most hopeless of situations as he says:

“Tom, can you get me off the hook? For old time’s sake?”

The scene could be a master class in crime cinema. The little, hopeless smile Vigota gives before saying “for old time’s sake,” the double take he gives before the line, the way his features fall in resignation of his fate all serve to represent the life of an aging mafia soldier who has finally entered his last battle and will go out according to the mafioso code. There is no fight, no gunplay, no histrionics. Just a man who knows he has outlived his ambitions and is prepared to pay the price. I would practically sell my soul to be able to write such a subtle, yet all-powerful line.

 

Hi everyone. Just a quick reminder in case you haven’t heard that the RRBC Holiday Pop Up Bookshop is up and running through December 16. This is a wonderful chance to do some holiday shopping for those you love… or for yourself. So many great authors, so much great writing to choose from. Support your indie authors today! My novel, Blood Moon Fever, is featured (and yes, you can see me doing a short reading from on the Author Reading Room page) along with some other fantastic writers from all genres.

https://bit.ly/2SEDpJg

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I wanted to take some time to appreciate some of the immensely talented indie authors you may not have heard of yet. The world of independent publishing has been a wonderful boon to writers, but getting their works out to the public can be a Sisyphean challenge for writers seeking an audience.

Doing my part to support other indie authors, here’s a short list of novels I’ve found that tickled my terror bone and left me with a sense of wonder at the largely unsung talents striving in the much-neglected world of indie authorship.  Read these wonderful writers and enjoy the shudders to follow.

 

HOUNDED: ELLIE DOUGLASS

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I don’t know what it is about dogs that can inspire such primal fear. I’ve been a dog lover my entire life and have a wonderful, lovable old Akita who is my constant companion. But still… there are moments when I realize that the loving pet in my home could rend me to pieces if the situation were different. Ellie Douglass has tapped into that primal fear and produced one of the scariest, goriest, all-out canine horror-fests I’ve ever encountered.

Douglass’ Hounded is a zombie novel, but unlike most, the zombies aren’t human. Something has turned the dogs of the world into slavering, ravenous zombies. The pandemic virus SB 16 has sent over two thirds of the global population into irreversible comas while turning the canine population into savage beasts. A small band of survivors try to fend of the hideous furry beasts, and then a stunning twist sends the novel spinning into a nightmare beyond the nightmare.

And a nightmare it is. Douglass rides that oh-so-fine line of balancing wonderful writing and fully-developed characters with fascinatingly intertwined backstories and grisly gore.  Those who poo-poo ultra-violent novels without giving them a fair chance should really discover Douglass. Her writing is fresh, vivid, and graphic. This is a novel for both gore-hounds (pun intended) and lovers of exquisitely crafted prose in horror fiction. I give my highest recommendation (even though I envy her for her talent in lending class and pathos to the splatter novel).

 

SECOND CHANCES: AARON D BRINKER

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I’m a huge fan of the thriller/horror genre, but the books I like best are the ones that ground the thrills and scares in psychological and ethical issues. Second Chances does just that. Chaun Hutchins is a man haunted by many things in life: a dysfunctional marriage, anxieties over becoming a father, and a fateful few words before a tragic accident that follow him through the novel like vengeful ghosts. There are ghosts in this novel, to be sure, but the most potent and horrifying haunting is the haunting of regret, resentment, and trauma.

This is a novel of quiet horror, horror for readers who enjoy having their minds played with by a talented author with a keen sense of suspense and pacing.  A stunning achievement for author Aaron Brinker.

THE CIMMERIANS: THERSA JACOBS

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Theresa Jacobs’ The Cimmerians is a wonderfully eerie novel that had me fighting the urge to look over my shoulder while reading. The opening poem that begins the novel is wickedly eerie and sets the tone for the ghosty and ghastly events that follow. I was taken by the central character, Emersyn, from the beginning as she attempts to leave her troubled New York Past behind and begin anew in a small Midwestern town. Unfortunately, she quickly discovers that the house she moved into was the scene of a suicide ten years prior. Rumors around town were that the young woman killed herself in a state of grief and shock after discovering a grisly scene at the home of her boyfriend. As Emersyn digs deeper into the mystery, she discovers hints of shadowy figures who may have been haunting the deceased. As she peels back the layers of the onion, she unwittingly releases an ancient evil and finds herself in a frantic fight for her life.

This novel has all of my favorite things: ghostly figures, a haunted house, a compelling mystery, and strong characters that I truly cared about. A wild ride through a landscape as surreal as the paintings of the main character, Crowley’s Cult twists and turns through multiple realities of horror, sacrifice, occultism, and erotic extremes. If you like a good shuddery tale well told, give this one a try.

CROWLEY”S CULT: ANDREA MERCHAK

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A wild ride through a landscape as surreal as the paintings of the main character, Crowley’s Cult twists and turns through multiple realities of horror, sacrifice, occultism, and erotic extremes. Renowned painter Zane Kelly is forced to flee with fiancee Olivia from a terrifyingly omnipresent stalker and winds up unwittingly involved in the resurrection of ancient and malignant forces. The novel’s breakneck pace took me on the wildest of rides through scenes of surreal mystery and depraved violence.

The occult themes in the novel are exquisitely portrayed, as Zane and Olivia descend ever deeper into a world turn upside down. Balancing the line between the truly perverted and the gorgeously poetic, Merchak’s writing reminds me very much of the young Clive Barker, who explored the Janus face of pain and pleasure like no other before. Crowley’s Cult has well earned a special place in the pantheon of erotic horror.

 

THE DEAD GAME: SUSANNE LEIST

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Susanne Leist’s The Dead Game offers a new take on an old horror trope.  The novel is set in a world of fascinating polarities represented by the idyllic-sounding Florida beach community ironically named Oasis and the aptly named End House. While very quickly in the novel, readers find that the hopes connoted by the name Oasis prove to be a shimmering mirage obscuring the hideous forces at work, End House couldn’t have a more apt name.

The town’s pristine beaches become stained by corpses that have a disturbing habit of washing up on shore. People disappear on the town’s dark streets. An abandoned haunted house looks down on the town, holding untold horrors within its walls. A plethora of vampires (a combination of the good, the bad, and the ugly) find themselves locked in a chilling game of strategy, vying for survival and control.

Leist combines so many fascinating elements of the horror genre in this novel that the end result is an all-out assault on the nerves: vampires, a haunted house, betrayal, romance amidst the paranormal chaos, a sleepy beach community that hides a terrible secret, creatures out of your worst nightmare.  Those are the ingredients for a cracking good horror tale, and Leist serves up a deliciously chilling and thrilling meal with this one.

Leist’s strong, intelligent female characters add much to this chilling breakout novel, and her wonderful attention to detail and uncanny description add much depth to the compelling narrative.  As I’ve said above, I’m a reader who is willing to follow authors damned near anywhere as long as they give me characters that I can believe in, who are well-developed and engaging.  Leist scores high marks on all points in this regard.  I took in this novel in one great gulp, not setting it down until the heart-stopping conclusion.

Read, if you dare, and enjoy the nightmares that follow! And please remember to write an Amazon or GoodReads review.

 

 

In a shameless act of self-promotion, here’s a sample chapter of my werewolf thriller Blood Moon Fever. In the novel, FBI agent David Goodwin isn’t having a good month. Sent on a manhunt after escaped felon ‘Hard Time Jake’ Griffon, he finds he has bitten off more than he can chew as he moves from the wooded Northern California wilderness to the mean streets of LA in pursuit of a man who has become something beyond human.

During Griffon’s bloody prison break, something happened in the woods of the Modoc Forest. Something inhuman. Something evil. Something terrifying.

Now, as the full moon prepares to rise over the City of Angels, Goodwin must piece together elements of a puzzle involving a fugitive on the run, a crooked lawyer, a violent drug cartel, and a string of bloody corpses left in the wake of an ancient terror now awake and hungry for fresh carnage.

Below is a sample chapter…

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Goodwin sped through the night, weaving in and out of traffic as Chiha gripped the dashboard tightly, his face expressionless.

“He will be gone before we get there.”

Goodwin kept his eyes on the road, scanning for gaps between the cars as he blew past.

“Probably good. Forgot my silver bullets, anyway.”

“That is part of your mythology. If you shoot him in the head or heart, he will die the same as you. The type of bullet is not important.”

“You can be killed like that?”

Chiha considered.

“It is not easy. On your own, he will kill you before you even get to fire. He is as intelligent as you, but faster and stronger than you can imagine. But even a pure blood can be killed if wounded badly enough. We heal faster and can survive wounds that could kill a man, but we are mortal.”

“So you can kill him?”

“Yes, as he can kill me. But neither of us will get the chance to kill the other if we cannot find him. In the forest, I can track him anywhere. In this city … it is more difficult. I cannot find him without you.”

Goodwin pulled a hard right from the far left lane, leaving the squeal of tires and angry honking of horns in his wake.

“We’re stuck with each other, then.”

“It would appear so.”

***

Goodwin pulled up sideways in front of the Sons of Leather. Police cars and two ambulances blocked the right lane. Officers were questioning bar patrons and keeping onlookers at bay in the flashing red lights. A large man dressed in a shirt emblazoned with the bar logo sat on the curb while a young paramedic tended to a gash on his head while a patrolman took notes.  Goodwin listened in as he approached.

“I wouldn’t believe me either, man. But you didn’t see his face. Ask anyone, man.” He swept his arm to the shell-shocked witnesses huddled in groups on the sidewalk. “He jumped backwards on the bar like a fuckin’ cougar, then jumped halfway across the fuckin’ room. An’ his face … it fuckin’ changed, man. There some new drug on the street? ‘Cause whatever it is, count me fuckin’ out.”

The paramedic and the cop exchanged glances.

“C’mon guy. You got a concussion.” He helped the bouncer to his feet. “We’ll get you checked out, okay?”

Goodwin looked at Chiha. The paramedic walked the bouncer to the ambulance and helped him inside. Goodwin walked over to the detective, holding up his ID card.

“Special Agent Goodwin. This was Jake Griffon?”

“We don’t know exactly. The description that was called in fits, but then we show up and we got wits giving us conflicting descriptions of his face. All we know is the guy was leaping around the bar like Superman, took out three guys, jumps on the bar, then hightails it out the back door. One in the morgue, two in the hospital. We got cars combing the area looking for him.”

“How long’s he been gone?”

“Maybe twenty minutes.”

“Shit. Clothes?”

The detective flipped back a few pages in his notebook.

“Jeans. Sweatshirt. Baseball cap. No one’s sure of the colors. You know how it goes.”

“Thanks.” Goodwin turned to leave.

“Sure. One other thing though.”

Goodwin turned back to him.

“People think he was on some new kind of drug. Not just because of how he moved, but because his face … shit, I don’t believe this myself.”

“What about his face?”

“They said his face was … rippling. That’s their word, not mine. Rippling like waves. Fuckin’ crazy, huh?”

Goodwin said nothing, grabbing Chiha by the arm and steering him towards the bar.

“He ran out the back about twenty minutes ago. The cops have a rough description and are looking for him. From what they told me about his movements and energy, he’s probably sprinted to the city limits by now.”

“No. He will be tired.”

“What?” Goodwin asked, pulling him to a stop.

“When he becomes angry or frightened, he has already begun to change. But after, he will be weak. He will feel sick almost to the point of death. He may be close by, hiding until his strength returns. If we find him soon, he will be easier to take.”

“That’s great, but if the cops get to him first, they won’t know what they’ve got.”

“Take me into this building where he was fighting.”

“Why?”

“I can track him.”

“This is the city. There won’t be any tracks to follow.”

“I don’t mean footprints.” The irises of his eyes grew slightly larger, and his nostrils flared.

“Fine,” Goodwin hissed and steered him towards the bar.

Inside, a forensics unit was busy searching for evidence, anything that would positively identify Griffon as the instigator of the violence earlier that night. The band’s equipment was still on stage, the instruments laying where they had been dropped in the panic that set in once Griffon, if in fact it was him, had let loose. Goodwin steered Chiha to the bar.

“According to the witnesses, he jumped up on here before fleeing out the back. Apparently, he’s not too…”

He trailed off, staring open-mouthed at Chiha, who lowered his head a few inches off the bar top. He took a long, slow breath in through his nose and held it. From the other side of the room, the forensics people stopped what they were doing to stare. Chiha exhaled and moved towards the back door.

“I know,” he said.

“Know what?”

Chiha didn’t acknowledge the question, moving purposefully to the door. Goodwin followed as he pushed open the door and walked into the dark alley behind the bar. Chiha paused, holding up one hand. Goodwin stopped, opened his mouth to repeat the question, then closed it. Chiha slowly rotated his head from right to left, bent at the knees, and squatted on his haunches.

“You know what?” Goodwin asked again, irritated.

Chiha stood to his full height and peered into the darkness at the east side of the alley.

“It was him. I know which way he went.”

The back door banged open and one of the forensic team stepped into the alley.

“Who the hell are you guys?”

Goodwin held up his ID.

The man looked at the ID, then to Goodwin, and finally to Chiha.

“I know you’re a fed, but that guy sure the hell isn’t. What’s he…”

“He’s with me. Get back inside and do your damn job. Every minute you waste asking dumb questions, Griffon gets farther away.”

The forensic man blustered, “Yeah, but he isn’t supposed to be in here.”

Goodwin strode up inside his personal space, jamming the ID under his nose.

“This tells you all you need to know. The Bureau’s running this one, and I don’t have time for lab geek bullshit. I said he’s with me. Now get the fuck back inside.”

The forensic man stammered and blushed, then retreated back into the bar, no doubt headed for one of the detectives.

“I hope you know the hell what you’re doing,” Goodwin said as Chiha walked off down the alley and into the night.

Thanks for reading. Blood Moon Fever is available as a paperback on amazon or on kindle. https://amzn.to/2CZNKuy

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I had originally conceived of this as a one-shot blog post about an underrated movement in horror films, but an unexpected deluge of reader requests prompted me to do a second installment.  Sticking with my original self-imposed limit of one film per director, here are four more wonderfully twisted and perversely beautiful mumblegore films for Halloween.

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Honeymoon

Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon is a film that creates a disquieting effect on viewers. It’s cinematically gorgeous and meticulously composed, while also a brutally taboo-crossing exercise in body horror and paranoia. Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway play Bea and Paul, a young couple embarking on their honeymoon in a remote woodland cabin.  Leslie and Treadaway manage to create fully-realized and engaging characters, and the quiet moments in their new relationship are charming. Like West’s The Inkeepers, Honeymoon takes its time setting its audience up for the horrors to come by presenting realistic characters who are flat out interesting to watch.  The beginning of their honeymoon is romantic, sometimes funny, and honestly sweet. I found myself so taken by their story that for a moment, I somewhat forgot I was watching a horror film, which speaks to Janiak’s talent as a filmmaker.

When things begin to go wrong, my guard was already mostly down.  Strange lights appear in the woods at night.  Bea and Paul have a Kafkaesque encounter with the owners of a local restaurant.  Bea begins sleepwalking, then suffers odd moments of functional memory loss and gradual changes to her personality. And things only get worse from there. There’s a moment of extreme body horror between Bea and Paul that I won’t give away, but I will say that I’ll never get that cinematic moment out of my head.

At its core, Honeymoon is a film about the quiet horror of discovering that the person you initially fell in love with may be more complicated that you originally saw through the eyes of new love.  It speaks to the dangers of idealization and the willful blindness with which many of us enter new relationships. That personal, quiet, relational horror is at the core of mumblegore films, and Honeymoon is one of the best.

 

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Baghead

Jay and Mark Duplass’ Baghead is one of the earliest mumblgore films, and to this day it has a polarizing effect on audiences.  Some find it a refreshing break from the conventions of studio horror, others claim it is a waste of celluloid—nothing more than a group of people with a camera and no idea what to do once it’s rolling. Clearly, I fall into the first category. For me this film was a breath of fresh air trying to find an audience in the wake of the big budget but largely soulless remake-heavy year of 2007 (Saw 4,The Hills Have Eyes 2, and Hostel 2).

Baghead is so much less about plot and special effects than it is about character. Four aspiring film actors/directors head off to a cabin in the woods to hole up and write a film that they can write, direct, and act in as a group. One of the group (mumblegore favorite Gretta Gerwig) has a nightmare about being menaced by a man with a paper bag over his face, which provides the seed of an idea that they try to write a script around. Unfortunately, the ideas don’t come. Then odd things begin to happen. The cars are vandalized. People begin seeing a bag-headed figure in the woods.  Is it all a prank? Is someone stalking them? We don’t know until the conclusion, but we also don’t care.  What’s really in the spotlight here are the secret (and not-so-secret) desires and insecurities of the characters.  Resentment and desire make for strange bedfellows, and that is what lies at the core of this micro-budget film.  This is a horror film for cinephiles everywhere.  Sometimes, as an artist, the most frightening thing isn’t a masked maniac with a bag over his head, but the realization that you are out of ideas, or even worse that you never had the good ideas to begin with.

 

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Silver Bullets

Joe Swanberg is a bit of an oddity on this list.  A Midwesterner who began making micro-budget mumblecore films in 2005, his strongest mumblegore credits come from his performances in You’re Next, A Horrible Way to Die, V/H/S, and The Sacrament. But his 2011 psychological thriller Silver Bullets is a classic of its kind.

Silver Bullets tells the emotionally claustrophobic story of a director named Ethan (Swanberg) whose girlfriend Claire (Kate Lynn Sheil) takes a role in a werewolf horror film directed by Ben, one of his competitors (played by mumblegore director Ti West). Ethan is perversely jealous of Claire’s involvement in the film and out of spite casts her best friend in his own highly sexual film.  Tensions and simmering jealousies fester and eventually erupt, and Claire begins having odd fantasies/hallucinations that mirror the plot of the werewolf film in which she’s acting.

What I like best about this film is how Swanberg takes the archetypal figure of the werewolf ( a figure often representing the barely submerged inner beast in us) and uses it to weave a tale of obsession, pathological narcissism, and psychotic possessivism. This is perhaps the most excruciatingly inward-looking horror film on my list. Watching it is like undergoing the most painful psychoanalysis. It’s not pleasant at the time, but in plumbing the depths of our collective neuroses, it offers the hope for growth and transcendence.

 

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Blue Ruin

It took much inner wrestling to come up with only one film from Jeremy Saulnier for this list. Green Room was astounding for its punk ethos and aesthetics as it told a gripping tale of a punk band who witnesses a crime at a Nazi club where they are billed. Hold the Dark, Saulnier’s latest film makes use of the themes of violence, revenge, and trauma common to his body of work, but adds a mythic quality to the gritty realities of his films. But ultimately, I decided on Blue Ruin, an earlier film that is lacking a single wrong note in its painful depiction of the old adage that resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.

Blue Ruin tells the story of Dwight (the wonderful Macon Blair), a homeless man who gets word that the man who murdered his parents when he was a child, is about to be released from prison. The news shakes him out of his isolated existence living in his car on the beach and prompts him to take revenge on the man who sent him spiraling into a life utterly ruled by untreated trauma.  What would, in other hands, be a conventional revenge-thriller, becomes something very different in Saulnier’s film.  There is violence, make no mistake about that.  But Saulnier goes far deeper in examining the prison-house of masculinity in our culture, the cyclic nature of violence, and the impossibility of exacting a satisfying revenge.  Plans unravel, assumptions pile up and blow back on characters, and the bonds of family that supposedly bind us end up imprisoning us unless somehow broken. This may well be the bleakest film I’ve seen that ends on the very real hope for redemption.

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Ever felt the horror of being in a social situation that suddenly took a turn for the worst? Felt uncomfortable by an off-color comment made in the assumption of like-minded thinking? Tried to be polite in the face of creepily insistent and unwanted attention? If so, then you may relate to the wonderful small films usually lumped under the genre category of mumblegore.

This is, to say the least, a challenging topic to tackle with any depth in a blog. To talk about the sub-sub genre mumbleGore requires an exploration of mumbleCore, the somewhat larger genre from which it was birthed. But trying to go in-depth about mumblecore filmmaking is to dive headfirst down the rabbit hole of guerilla film, low-budget auteur stylistics, post-mumblecore trajectories, and end up all the way back to the French New Wave.

Whew! Time to take a breath and skim over some things before getting down to the meat of the subject. Mumblecore, as many of you film junkies already know, refers to an overall attitude towards filmmaking that started with a group of young directors from the East Coast who emphasized dialogue and character over plot and action, eschewed detailed screenplays and storyboarding, and relied heavily on improvisation by largely non-professional actors. Naturalism was the main theme, with dialogue often overlapping and heavily conversational in a group setting. The fact that many directors usually included in the genre outright reject the term only stirs an already overbubbling pot.

Mumblegore (note the g), more specifically, refers to a handful of directors, many of whom come from the West Coast, who applied the basic elements of mumblecore films to horror and noir-ish themes.  The result has been a watershed of wonderful, creative, intelligent films that explore the darkness that surrounds us. What’s perhaps most refreshing to the horror genre is mumblegore’s insistence on respecting the intelligence of its audience. Think of it as art-horror without some of the pretensions. Whether dealing with small group gatherings or isolated individuals, mumblecore films give you the sense of being a fly on the wall at moments that are intimate, private, awkward, and downright terrifying.

A particular theme in the films also coalesce around awkward outsiders and highly awkward social situations. The horror of the personal sets the stage for the larger horrors (whether supernatural or psychotically human) that slowly take over the narrative. This is a genre for everyone who has ever felt not-quite a part-of, those who never had the feeling of fitting in, being smooth and articulate in all situations. In short, a genre to which all but the most narcissistic among us can relate. These films touch us in our most personal inner spaces, reach in and wrench us in a Kafkaesque sense of absurdity and quiet horror.

I’ve put tight restrictions on myself here, only picking four films from this genre that I hope you enjoy. I’ve also limited myself to one director only, otherwise this would turn into a Ti West/Adam Wingard lovefest. And those two marvelous directors deserve much love, so by all means check out their other films.  Here are four chillers that you will definitely thank me for watching.

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The Invitation

Karyn Kasuma’s film is perhaps the ultimate in West Coast “encounter moment” horror. A man gets a dinner invitation to his ex-wife’s stylishly modern California home and fatefully decides to come, bringing his new girlfriend with him.  To say anything more about the film would be a travesty, as the less you know, the better. All I will say is that Kasuma has an incredible talent for finding malevolence in the smallest of details… a glass of wine, a dropped phone call, a torturously endless confession in an awkward situation. This is the one film on my list where I say to go in blind, if you can. Skip the trailer, skip the reviews, and get right to the movie. And yes, I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here. Suffice it to say that this is by far the most amazing film about a supremely uncomfortably social situation I’ve ever seen.

But allow me to linger over the non-essential details.  Logan Marshall-Green’s performance as Will is simply spectacular. Playing a man tortured by a horribly tragic event in the past, he is every bit the man consumed by a grief he cannot escape. Emayatzy Corinealdi, playing his girlfriend, finds the perfect touch of incredulity and decisiveness as the horror plays out.  So much of the film’s deep structure of economics, race, and cultural division are so deftly touched on that they are almost invisible, ghostly reminders that haunt the privileged dinner party like … well, the unquiet dead hand of history.

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Cheap Thrills

E.L. Katz’s Cheap Trills is a visceral and cerebral trip through Hell, laced with subtle commentary on economics and the void separating the haves from the have-nots. The set-up is simple, but steeped in pathos.

Pat Healy plays Craig, a family man with a wife and toddler son who wakes from pleasant dreams to the living nightmare of his life. He’s so far behind on the rent that he finds an eviction notice taped to his front door, then arrives for work and is let go due to the downward spiraling economy.  Too ashamed to return home, he stops at a bar to drown the sense that his life is controlled by forces that he can’t even comprehend. There he runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), and old high school friend whose life has taken a different turn. Vince is a leg-breaker for a local loan shark. The two old friends share a drink together, and Craig finally opens up about the secrets he’s been keeping. From that moment, everything goes straight to Hell and beyond.

The two characters represent opposite strains of masculinity in the early 21stcentury: the struggling (and failing) writer forced to do oil changes at a local garage, a living death of paycheck to paycheck that can’t even begin to support his family. Vince is a man of violence who forces those in debt to pay up with his fists, while his nameless boss takes most of the profits without getting his own hands dirty. Vince hides his intelligence and compassion behind a wall of violence; Craig hides his pride by keeping secrets, hoping for a miracle to pull him out of his crisis.

The miracle comes in the form of a wealthy couple (Sara Paxton and David Koechner) slumming it in the dive bar. They invite Craig and Vince over for a drink, and then the games begin.

And games they are. What starts out as a simple series of bets orchestrated by Koechner ($50 for whoever downs his shot first, $100 for whoever can get the woman at the bar to slap him in the face) soon turns darker, then completely black (think “how much money would it take to sever a part of your body with a meat cleaver?”).  Koechner and Paxton get their kicks from making wagers with the working poor to do dangerous, embarrassing, and increasingly humiliating things.  And as the wagers escalate in severity and financial payoff, Craig and Vince find out just how far they’ll go to crawl out of their financial holes.

The violence in the film is underscored by the subtextual friendship between Vince and Craig, but the most important relationship always comes back to money.  A wonderful allegory of the haves and the have-nots, on class warfare (the wealthy keeping the workers fighting amongst each other to shore up their economic structure of power), and ultimately on friendship and family. The film may be called Cheap Thrills, but the thrills come at a high price, indeed.

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You’re Next

Adam Wingard’s You’re Next is probably the best-known film on this list, having caused a major splash upon its release. The film took the festival circuit by storm and became a minor crossover hit, deservedly so.

Set in the isolated vacation mansion of a very large and very wealthy family, the film sets off as a “this is your life in Hell” version of a family reunion. Unspoken resentments and tensions simmer from the get-go and quickly boil over at a tense dinner scene that is interrupted by an explosion of violence from outsiders intent on killing everyone in the house. The group of assailants, all wearing odd and disturbing animal masks, seem to have no motive other than to kill for the sake of killing.

As chaos break out and panic rules the day in the house, secrets are slowly revealed to show how no one is really who they seem to be, and the ultimate threat is not from the outside, but from within.

In case you haven’t seen this one, I won’t reveal more. Suffice it to say that the twists in this story are original and well-structured. Wingard has a knack for underscoring the violence in his films with a quirky sense of humor that rides the line between torture-horror and black comedy without tipping fully one way or the other. This matches the film’s subtext of greed, privilege, and the arrogance of economic self-confidence, resulting in a gripping thriller with direct parallels to class and gender games in contemporary American culture. For God’s sake, watch this film if you haven’t seen it yet!

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The Innkeepers

 Ti West, another enfant terrible in the mumblegore ensamble, is best known for his wonderful 2009 House of the Devil. He followed that film with my personal favorite in his portfolio. The eerie, touching, and definitively quirky The Inkeepers.

A less-than-fashionable Boston hotel on the last day before closing for the season is the setting for one of the best ghost stories in years.  The hotel, now only housing two guests and staffed by two workers (Pat Healy and Sara Paxton of Cheap Thrills again), has a reputation of being haunted by the ghost of a 19thcentury bride who hung herself in one of the rooms after being jilted at the altar.  Legend has it that the owners hid her body in the basement to avoid scandal, and her spirit remains trapped in the building.  Paxton and Healy are amateur (very, very amateur) ghost hunters convinced that if they capture her ghost on video, their ghost hunting website will become famous.

Although the ghost story is marvelously (and terrifyingly) played out, what struck me most about the film were the honest, engrossing, and so deeply real performances by Healy and Paxton. Their relationship is complex and loaded with subtle shadings of their repressed feelings, self-doubts, and general sense of not having a place in the world around them. In fact, if this were a straight indie drama without the ghost story, I would have been equally engrossed.

But ghosts are more than just spirits of the dead. A ghost can also be a metaphor for something that is present when it should be (or is wished to be) absent. Memories, feelings, desires, and all of the things that make up that heady Freudian stew we call the unconscious have a way of returning when ignored or repressed.  It’s at that intersection of the real and metaphorical ghosts where this film shines. It also lingers in the mind, like a ghost itself, to haunt the viewer.

 

If you haven’t crossed the cinematic bridge to the weird, witty, and wonderful land of mumblegore films, do yourself a favor and check out these films and other similar spooky, emotionally-wrenching, and deliciously quirky horror gems.

 

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I’ve been meditating on the great paperback horror boom in the ’70s and ’80s lately, having just listened to Jim Moon’s wonderful run-down of Grady Hendrix’s new book Paperbacks From Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction. If you haven’t yet discovered Moon’s podcast Hypnogoria at http://hypnogoria.libsyn.com, do so immediately. Jim is a wonderful podcaster with a sense of humor that matches his encyclopedic knowledge of everything from folklore to 19thcentury Gothic novels to comics to film.

Listening to Hypnogoria podcasts always puts me in a nostalgic mood, and his discussion of Hendrix’s book got me pulling through my bookshelves searching for some of my favorite horror novels, books that I first discovered because of their glossy, wonderfully-conceived paperback covers. Setting aside some of the more famous titles, I selected a few lesser known novels (well-known to devoted horror readers, less so to dabblers in fright fiction).  These novels still have the power to stand up today in our world of internet connectivity, virtual reality, kindle readers, and hypertextuality. They harken back to the days when the musty smell of an old paperback could provoke the same nostalgic response as Proust’s madeleines.

So settle back in a comfy chair, put on your favorite nostalgic guilty-pleasure ’70s album (mine would be Al Stewart’s The Year of the Cat… yes, mock me if you will), and take a trip back to the golden age of the horror paperback.

Off Season -Jack Ketchum

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Jack Ketchum writes as though he somehow channeled the ghost of Ernest Hemingway by way of Jim Thompson while polishing off a fifth of Jack Daniels. His landmark (and highly controversial) novel Off Season caught me totally by surprise. I had heard Stephen King reference Ketchum in a speech and tracked down a paperback copy with qualified high hopes, but nothing could have prepared me for the stark horrors to follow.

This slender novel begins at a breakneck pace and never lets its foot off the throttle. From the opening, in which an up-and-coming book editor from the Big Apple enters an isolated cabin on the coast of Maine, waiting for family and friends to arrive, this novel pulls you in with the artful precision of a sniper. Before the bloody horror show begins, Ketchum draws sympathetic, finely-drawn characters with an economy of prose that is remarkable. And that only serves to make the atrocities to follow all the more devastating. When a feral family who has been prowling the rocky Maine coast for years invades, the violence and terror to follow are difficult to describe.

In Ketchum’s hands, the slaughter that occurs on the fateful night in this book reaches a level of art. And, yet again, it’s the quality of the prose, the assurance that as a reader, you are in the hands of a master–although perhaps a demented one– that keeps you turning page after blood soaked page. There isn’t an unnecessary word, a half-handed turn of phrase, or a single cliche in the book (hence the Hemingway similarity), and the extreme violence in the book is justified by the characters and their motivations.

This is not a novel for the faint of heart… or stomach. After reading one particularly grisly section, I knew I’d never be able to look at a fish hook the same way again. But Ketchum explores the heady question of what different people will do to survive with an acid wit. His novel slices like a scalpel through questions of what it truly means to be human, and to what length humans will go to survive given their respective environments. And besides that, it’s one hell of a horror novel.

The Hyde Effect -Steve Vance

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I have to admit… I like my werewolves on the traditional side.  I can enjoy a well-written werewolf-romance novel, and although I have found exceptions, I don’t particularly care for my werewolves to be heroic (although I have to tip my hat to Clive Barker and Nicholas Pekearo for creating superb heroic werewolves). I grew up in the shadow of the Lon Chaney Jr Wolfman, and I shall likely forever remain in that shadow. For me, the tragedy of the werewolf story is the helpless human who, due to a curse, is forced to change into a monstrous beast under the full moon, a beast who commits acts of savagery that are beyond unspeakable. Steve Vance has written one doozy of a novel in that vein.
Vance’s story, remarkably original for its time, is of a savage werewolf terrorizing a rural community outside of Los Angeles. In this sense, it is the perfect werewolf novel… horrific murders committed every full moon, a disbelieving police force, a determined, rag-tag group of people imaginative enough to see what is really happening, and the pandemonium that ensues once the monster is captured in human form and placed in lock-down to study. But the capture of the beast is undercut by the hubris of the scientists studying it, and to say that all hell breaks loose would be a remarkable understatement. It’s a grand epic, full of grisly details of lycanthropic mayhem and supernatural sleuthing.

Vance’ gift for narrative tension and power is considerable and more than makes up for dialogue that occasionally lapses into stilted exchanges. As much as I found myself staying up far later into the night that I had planned devouring the pages, I often found myself cringing at the awkward dialogue. But it is to Vance’s credit that I found myself not caring, captured by an old-fashioned werewolf novel of nostalgic power. This novel novel, quite simply, turned me into a kid again, feverishly reading pulpy neo-Gothic writing and finding myself scared silly, just as I was when I read the Marvel Comics “Werewolf by Night” series under the covers with a flashlight when I was 10. As a reader, I treasure such moments, moments that transport me back to the joys of childhood. And despite my previous grievances regarding Vance’s prose abilities, I truly thank him for that.

If you, like me, are a reader who grew up watching Hammer horror films and Vincent Price thrillers or read Manly Wade Wellman and R. Chetwynd-Hayes under the covers, you will likely enjoy this novel and forgive Vance for his faults. And you just might find yourself sleeping with the light on.

The Night Boat -Robert McCammon

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McCammon’s earlier fiction can be a bit hit and miss, but this novel is as gripping as anything he has written and shows the tight plotting and breakneck narrative pace that marked his later, more mature writing. This is a zombie novel of old… no fast-moving hoards of zombies in a post-apocalyptic world here. The undead of this novel are the zombies of old: staggering, shambling, and relentless. From the harrowing opening scene in which a Nazi U-boat sinks a ship in Caribbean waters through to the white-hot, page-turning conclusion, this novel begs to be read from cover to cover in one sitting.

Jumping to the present day, the sunken U-boat resurfaces and represents not only a return of the repressed in terms of the evils of Nazism, but a very real return of the undead U-boat crew, who set about devouring the island inhabitants with relentless abandon.

For readers like me, who grew up in the 1970s, this novel was a refreshing break from the end of the world zombie-plague novels being published today (not that I dislike those … Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and M.R. Carey’s The Girl with all the Gifts are among my favorites … but there was a special, nostalgic flair in this book that warmed my heart). Set on a forgotten Caribbean island, the blend of an undead U-Boat crew, voodoo, and a claustrophobic sense of island isolation brought me back to the old days of exotic horror settings and the trope of the war dead who won’t stay dead.  Although I’m sure many would argue the point, this is my favorite of McCammon’s early books.

The Nightwalker -Thomas Tessier

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I’ve saved what may be my favorite for last. Tessier’s The Nightwalker is a classic of its kind. While most of the famous movie monsters had their start as 19th century novels (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), the werewolf was largely a pop-culture product of Hollywood. Although earlier werewolf novels existed (most notably Guy Endore’s Werewolf of Paris), there was never a truly classic werewolf novel until Tessier published this book.

And what, perhaps, makes this novel so unique was how Tessier altered the cinematic genre conventions to draw a starkly realist portrait of lycanthropy. By the year of this novel’s publication, the werewolf had been so overdone by Hollywood that nothing but cheaply made B-movies existed. Tessier reinvented the genre with The Nightwalker, creating a character who is simultaneously sympathetic and appalling.

Bobby Ives, a very troubled young man in London, has either fallen under a werewolf curse or is slowly and inexorably going psychotically insane. His shadowy movements through the seedy London underbelly are as gripping as they are bleak, and he is haunted by dreams of a past life in which he lived on a Caribbean plantation, haunted by a voodoo curse. These dream sequences, drenched in the humid summer nights of the Caribbean, are some of the high points of the novel.

The shockingly realistic violence of the book is underscored by the sense of tragedy in which Ives desperately reaches out for help from a professional… with horrifying results.  The novel’s horror is underscored by the pathos through which we witness Ives’s slow retrograde evolution into something between beast and human. Tessier’s novel stands today as perhaps, perhaps mind you, the best werewolf novel ever written.

Lord knows, I read many eBooks on my trusty iPad, but if you’ve never given in to the pleasure of holding a tattered copy of a paperback horror novel, felt the satisfying crispness of turning a paper page, or inhaled the intoxicating aroma of wood pulp and that odd hint of vanilla unique to the printed page, then give an old paperback a try. Trust me … you’ll thank me for it.