Howard Phillips Lovecraft - August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937
I’ve got just enough time to get this in before the end of the day. I’ve just noticed several postings on Twitter stating that today is the 74th anniversary of the death of H.P. Lovecraft. How did I miss this? I love the man’s work, and when he was at the top of his game his horror stories were absolutely nightmarish. @ennomane tweeted a link to the Cthulhu Chick website from which you can download a free ebook of the complete works of H.P. Lovecraft in either Kindle or epub (which is compatible with The Nook) formats. The ebook contains all of Lovecraft’s stories in chronological order, from 1917’s “The Tomb” up to 1935’s “The Haunter of the Dark.”
As I understand it, Lovecraft’s writing has fallen into the public domain, so to the best of my knowledge this is a legal download. I have several Lovecraft books, but having all the stories in one place and in sequence to boot absolutely rocks.
Format: Musty old mass market paperback Publisher: Pocket Books Publication Year: 1979
I tackled John Russo’s 1979 slasher novel The Majorettes as an experiment. I had first read and enjoyed the book around 1980 or so and I wanted to see how well it had held up. I was initially attracted back in the day by the author’s horror cred since Russo was, along with George Romero, co-screenwriter of Night of the Living Dead. The Majorettes was originally intended to be a film, but when Russo was unable to secure funding he rewrote the story as a novel. A film version of The Majorettes, directed by Bill Hinzman, another Night of the Living Dead alumnus, eventually saw the light of day in 1987.
Russo’s novel was released in 1979, just a year after John Carpenter’s Halloween created the template for the American slasher film (although the less high profile slasher Black Christmas was released in 1974). In fact, The Majorettes came so early in the stalk and slash cycle that many of the sub-genres stereotypes had yet to be established. The body count is relatively modest, with only three majorettes and a few bystanders (some innocent, others less so) buying the farm. The “sex equals death” pattern is absent, with both the virginal and the promiscuous falling victim to the killer, but Russo also goes darker than most slashers by having many of the victims sexually assaulted, something that rarely if every happened in the golden age of the slasher film. In fact, this book seems to have more in common with the giallo genre than the slasher.
High school nerd and photography enthusiast Tommy Harvack has a serious crush on majorette Nicole Hendricks. She’s several notches above him in the social hierarchy, so when Nicole invites Tommy for some alone time in a secluded area of the woods he should realize something is up, but his teenage hormones refuse to listen. Nicole is pregnant by a scummy biker named Mace who wants her to have an abortion. She figures she can blame the pregnancy on Tommy, but the two teens are suddenly attacked and brutally murdered.
Two constantly bickering police detectives, Braden and Martell, are called in but don’t really accomplish much. Jeff Halloway, the quarterback for the high school football team informs the police about Nicole’s relationship with Mace, which makes Jeff a target for Mace and his biker pals. Meanwhile, Nicole’s fellow baton-twillers start biting the dust. The killer, whose identity is not revealed until late in the book, has some pretty twisted views on morality and sex, but there’s also a conspiracy behind the killings.
Sadly, this novel did not hold up well for me after three decades. When I first read The Majorettes I was closer in age to a lot of the characters, so I guess I could better identify with the teenage mindset. Probably the biggest problem is that the book has no clear protagonist and it suffers from the lack of consistent perspective. It seems that Detective Roland Martell and his girlfriend Marie Morgan who is also the majorette coach are being set up as the central characters, but we don’t end up seeing a whole lot of them. There’s even an extended scene in which Marie finds that her home has been broken into, implying that she too is a target, but this is immediately forgotten.
Apparently I was also more forgiving of bad writing when I was younger. Often it seems like Russo is a student of the tell rather than show school of fiction writing, which is the first thing they tell you not to do in creative writing class. Exposition is delivered clumsily, often via stilted dialogue. The scene in which Vicky explains to her friends that the guy she calls Dad is really her stepfather is cringe-inducingly unnatural sounding. It seems like the author put a lot of thought into the Tommy Harvack character, which makes sense since he is the first victim and having his character well fleshed out gives his death a real kick. Aside from Tommy, though, it’s hard to care about anything that happens to anyone in the book.
There are also some pretty unforgivable lapses in logic. Detective Braden says at one point “These killings may not be totally random.” Well, we have two murder scenes, each with a dead majorette, so no, Detective, they aren’t random. There’s also a seen in which Mace and his goons are interrupted while beating up Jeff, but the police don’t pursue them because it would be unsafe to do so in a residential neighborhood. Again, I call bullshit.
Russo had a few other novels I was fond of, specifically Midnight and The Awakening. After this disappointing trip down memory lane, though, I don’t think I’ll be revisiting them any time soon.
As I posted not long ago, horror novelist Bryan Smith used to work for Borders and has said that one of the reasons for the company’s bankruptcy was their inability to recognize the value of a competitive ebook reader system. That got me thinking of the bookmarks I’ve recently been getting with every Borders purchase. Now I’m not saying it’s a dumb idea to advertise ebooks on bookmarks intended for traditional paper books, but it does strike me as a touch ironic.
For “Zora and the Zombie,” author Andy Duncan eschews the Romero style zombie for the more traditional Hatian type. Duncan presents a fictionalized version of real-life author Zora Neale Hurston as she travels Haiti researching local legends including voodoo and zombies. During a voodoo ritual she finds less than convincing, Zora is told of a woman named Felicia Felix-Mentor who some believe to have returned from the dead. Felicia is catatonic, residing in a hospital, but has been identified by one man as his long dead sibling.
Kudos to Duncan for mixing some historical perspective into the recipe, but “Zora and the Zombie” meanders, never really giving the reader any idea where it’s going and the ending is particularly unsatisfying, feeling tacked on and resolving very little. A mystical woman named Erzulie who can steal men from their wives through the power of voodoo is important to the story but isn’t mentioned until the final pages. Sadly, this one is just kind of dull and I have to group it with “Dating Secrets of the Dead” as a real dud.
Format: trade paperback Publisher: Avant Punk – an imprint of Eraserhead Press (www.avantpunk.com) Publication Year: 2008
Author Carlton Mellick and the folks at Eraserhead Press certainly deserve points for salesmanship. The title and cover leaped out at me as I was perusing horror books at Amazon. I mean, take a look at that artwork. What horror fan could resist?
Apeshit pays homage to the classic slasher movie formula. Six teenagers head off to a cabin in the woods for a weekend of binge drinking and crazy sex. The massive number of dead woodland creatures piled up on the secluded road to the cabin don’t deter them, but as with your standard b-movie if anyone paid attention to the obvious warning signs we wouldn’t have much of a story. The party is soon in full swing, but our young heroes are being stalked by some kind of murderous inbred mutant, made all the more intriguing by the conjoined twin fetus protruding from his skull and his apparent inability to be killed.
Desdemona is the first of the group we meet. Her status as a cheerleader might make you think she’s a stereotypical teen bimbette, but the mohawk, ridiculous number of butterfly tattoos, and a threeway romantic relationship would seem to indicate otherwise. Desdamona’s two boyfriends Rick and Kevin are starting to question the future of their threesome, but Rick has a surgically implanted surprise for the other two just the same. Stephanie is a bit of a loner in the group, hiding both the secret that her brother is forcing her to have sex with him and the fact that she has teeth in her vagina. Jason’s father has done some weird and often criminal things over the years to ensure that his son isn’t afraid of anything, and Jason’s girlfriend Crystal has somehow managed to fetishize abortion.
Mellick states in his introduction that he’s not being shocking just for the sake of being shocking, but as he puts it, he’s trying to be interesting for the sake of being interesting and that he’s never tried to shock anyone with his work. I’m afraid I have to call bullshit on that. Perhaps he’s making a joke that’s just too subtle for me, but shock for shock’s sake is exactly what is going on here. Beyond the bizarre aspects of each character, none has any real depth. The book is written in a simplistic style that may be intentional, but I found it hard to be drawn in, and the dialogue often comes off as wooden. The bizarro angles might have worked for me in a better written book, but here the strangeness is all there is to offer.
At 178 pages, Apeshit is a quick read but I still found it a chore to get through, and an unpleasant chore at that. The back cover contains a glowing quote from author Brian Keene whose work I’ve enjoyed, and the book has a number of positive reviews online so apparently there is a market for this type of fiction, but I don’t see myself seeking out any more of Mellick’s work.
Author Peter Clines just posted this artwork over on his Facebook page. This is the final artwork for the cover of Ex-Patriots the hotly anticipated sequel to his zombie/superhero mash-up novel Ex-Heroes which I reviewed here. I’m assuming that’s Cerberus in the foreground, the battle armor wearing character from the first novel. It’s certainly an image that stimulates the imagination. Is Cerberus mechanizing zombies?
According to this post over at Megaton.us the novel is going to be released first as an audio book from audible.com in Summer of 2011, with print and ebook versions to follow in the Fall.
I have been a Stephen King fan since the late 70s. An announcement in Starlog or Fangoria magazine that King’s book The Stand was going to be made into a film by that Night of the Living Dead guy George Romero sent me running to Friar Tuck Books (a late and lamented book store chain from the period) at our local mall to pick up a copy of King’s epic. The thousand-ish page paperback was a bit intimidating to my teenage mind at first. I had always loved reading but I had never tackled a tome nearly as big. When I was done I was amazed at how fast it had gone, and The Dead Zone soon followed, then ‘Salem’s Lot and most of his back catalog. By the late 80s, though, I wasn’t quite the “constant reader” King often refers to. He was writing them faster than I could read them and his releases began zipping past me like stray bullets in a crappy neighborhood. I have managed to read some of his books in the intervening years and he usually manages to wow me. Not long ago I finished reading Under the Dome, and if anything his writing has only gotten better. I had been contemplating reading his next book, Full Dark, No Stars when he lapped me again and announced this new release. Ah well, I may have to resign myself to being one or more steps behind King from here on out.
His newest book 11/22/63 will hit book stores on November 8, 2011. This promises to be another thousand-pager, this time dealing with time travel and one man’s attempt to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Here’s how the book is described at King’s official site:
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
Format: multiple ebook formats (I read the epub version) Publisher: Bitter Ale Press Publication Year: 2011
This is a first for me. Between the time I purchased this book last week and the time I finished it last night, Bryan Smith’s latest novel, self-published as an ebook only, has undergone a title change. Smith gives the lowdown here, but apparently someone with a similarly titled project took issue with the use of the title Deadworld, even though it is impossible to copyright a title. So the book is now called Darkened, which doesn’t matter much to the reader because by any name this book would be a rollicking good slice of pulpy apocalyptic horror.
Holes have begun appearing in the fabric of reality, and some very bad things have started coming through. Just as the President is addressing the American people on this crisis, slithery tentacles appear from nowhere, killing the Commander in Chief on live television. The strange warp holes continue to appear, some bigger than others, with the entire nation of Pakistan vanishing into a black hole. Soon, large bat-faced creatures with tentacles, leathery wings, and needle-sharp teeth dripping with poison are appearing everywhere, laying waste to the population of the entire Earth. The creatures are only the first wave of Armageddon, and what’s left of the world is soon experiencing a general decay. Plant life quickly dies out and man-made objects begin to break down and corrode at a highly accelerated rate.
The world is left with only a handful of survivors. There’s a bartender/songwriter named Emily, her co-worker Jake and the world’s creepiest bar patron Aaron. We also have a college student named Warren who has to share the apocalypse with his seriously bitchy recent ex-girlfriend Amanda (tell me that isn’t uncomfortable). And we have a cable news anchor named Zeke who, in the wake of the global disaster, hooks up with Mary Lou, a perpetually naked and bat shit insane redneck. And, of course, there is also the entity from that other world that started it all.
I couldn’t help being reminded of F. Paul Wilson’s Nightworld, which also had nightmarish Lovecraftian creatures emerging from mysterious holes in the ground, though the resemblance between the two novels ends there. I had expected more monster mayhem, but the creatures disappear from the story about half-way through, and I think humanizing the extra-dimensional entity as much as the author does near the book’s climax made it a lot less scary. Still, Smith has a winner here. He’s got a pretty horrifying scenario, and the action flows along at a breakneck pace. This one is highly recommended and for just $2.99 you have very little to risk.
The New Adventures of Frankenstein was a series of horror adventure novels written by Don Glut in the early 1970s. Pulp 2.0 is going to be reissuing them in ebook format starting with the series’ first installment Frankenstein Lives Again. The press release at the above link says the book will be available for Kindle, but Pulp 2.0’s Bill Cunningham assured me via Facebook that the series will be available in multiple digital formats. For those of us who grew up reading Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and watching the classic Universal Monster movies, this series looks like a blast. The fact that the first installment will cost all of $.99, with subsequent books going for $2.99 pretty much clinches the deal for me.
These same novels were re-issued in magazine format a few years ago and The Groovy Age of Horror posted an interesting series of posts about them. There are occasional spoilers, so be warned.
In Nik Houser‘s “First Kisses From Beyond the Grave,” Zack Henry has been transferred to a new high school, thanks to an epic clerical error. His new alma mater, Purgatory High, is populated by dead teens whose souls are in all manner of unrest. Vampires, ghosts, and zombies make up the student body, including a genuine Egyptian mummy and a jive talking aborted fetus. The same mistake that has landed Zack at Purgatory High has transferred Paul Pennybaum, a brain-eating zombie student, to Zack’s old school and there have already been some fatalities. One such victim of brain-munching is Ginger Banks, a popular cheerleader who never gave Zack the time of day, but upon her transfer to Purgatory High the two find themselves in deep smit. The only way Zack can get back to his old school is to kill the zombie who took his place there, but that will mean leaving Ginger.
Horror and humor make for a tough mix. How can you take a multi-tentacled extra-dimensional monstrosity seriously if it’s singing show tunes and carrying a rubber chicken? For that matter do you really want to be laughing when the aforementioned beastie starts messily devouring toddlers and golden retriever puppies, regardless of the comedic might of synthetic fowl? In the wrong hands the scares will cancel out the yuks and vice versa.
On the other hand, author Houser gets it so right here that it’s just scary. And Funny. Which is kind of the point. Dare I also throw in the word poignant? Despite the fact that Zack is attending a school full of every manner of undead creature one could think of, Houser perfectly captures the high school experience, and his term “Purgatory High School” is delightfully redundant. The teen sense of isolation is done beautifully as Zack is the only kid in school with a pulse, his parents don’t quite get him, and he has trouble knowing what to say to girls:
“At least you didn’t wind up in Hell.”
“My cell phone doesn’t get any reception here!” she shouted at the black sky. “I AM in Hell!”
This story impressed the hell out of me and Houser is a writer to watch. Check out his website here and his webcomic Gentleman Caveman here.