It’s been quite a productive year for me already, and while (as per usual) I can’t spill the beans on everything that’s cooking right now (as much as I’d love to), I can at least share some news about stories that are on the way in various publications.
My story of dwarves tasked with finding their errant brethren in territory governed by the dead, “Down Here with Us” will appear in Tales of the Lost Citadel, a shared fantasy world anthology edited by C.A. Suleiman. There’s no release date yet, but as I’ve already received a sample copy, I imagine it can’t be too far away. More news on this as I have it.
“Andromeda”, about a technological and possibly cosmic plague, will appear in an upcoming chapbook from Sinister Grin Press.
The wartime story “Go Warily After Dark” about a family who pick the wrong place to seek shelter during an airstrike, will appear in Crystal Lake Publishing‘s forthcoming anthology Tales from the Lake Volume IV, edited by Joe Mynhardt and Ben Eads, due August 30th.
One of my rare erotica pieces “She Comes” is slated for publication this month in Great Jones Street‘s My Bloody Valentine series.
“Traveler”, a nasty little piece about a body-hopping entity who uses his unwitting victims to commit unspeakable crimes, will be featured in Dark Fuse Magazine in March.
My novelette “A Wicked Thirst”, about an alcoholic whose date goes gruesomely wrong, will appear in Garden of Fiends: Tales of Addiction Horror, edited by Mark Matthews. As a rather cool incentive, the first 25 people to order the book can choose a free book by any of the authors listed on the table of contents.
“Sanctuary”, about a child sent to retrieve his father in a city forgotten by the rest of the world, will appear in Dark Cities, edited by Christopher Golden, and published by Titan Books. Look for it in May.
“Verstedkt”, in which our titular hero is sent to an Alpine village to investigate claims of a witch, will appear in the prose anthology Hellboy: An Assortment of Horrors, edited by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola, due in August from Dark Horse Books.
Lastly, I have just turned in a short story “The Mannequin Challenge”, about an antisocial man who reluctantly agrees to attend the office Halloween party, and quickly wishes he hadn’t, to the Halloween Carnival anthology, edited by Brian Freeman, to be published by Cemetery Dance Publications and Random House.
I’ll update this list as more news develops…
As reported by Entertainment Weekly, Mike Mignola’s Hellboy returns in the prose anthology An Assortment of Horrors, edited by genre stalwart Christopher Golden. The lineup includes stories by Chelsea Cain, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Richard Kadrey, Chris Roberson, Paul Tremblay, Delilah Dawson, Laird Barron, Angela Slatter, Chris Priestley, Michael Rowe, Rio Youers, E. Lily Yu, Weston Ochse, and me.
In my story “Verstedkt”, Hellboy is called to a remote region in Europe to investigate a village in which the people are regularly forced to sacrifice one of their own to pacify a witch. But from the outset, all is not quite what it seems.
The book will be released in August via Dark Horse Books. You can preorder it here.
This has been a great year, arguably one of the best in recent memory, for the sheer number of solid horror movies we got, and that’s a cause for celebration. And though we’re not done with 2016 yet, here are my picks for the ten best horror movies of the year so far.
Bad horror is easy to create; good horror is not, which is why we end up with such an abundance of the former over the latter in all forms of media, so if every reviewer on the planet tells me a film is terrible, I tend to end up agreeing. In this case, however, I didn’t. I found the almost universally panned THE BOY a lot of fun, with just enough style and creepiness to keep me engaged, even if the central conceit was handled much more deftly in 2014’s Aussie comedy-horror HOUSEBOUND. Plus, Lauren Cohan!
THE CONJURING 2
While I still sometimes suffer from an inability to tell this series apart from the INSIDIOUS films (no doubt due to the stylistic similarity, not to mention the presence of Patrick Wilson in all of them), THE CONJURING 2, like its predecessor, is a solid example of how a cliched story can be elevated by the talent involved. And if you can overlook the fact that the films essentially use as heroes a duo of charlatans who notoriously exploited their victims, there’s plenty to enjoy here. James Wan’s movies draw me by virtue of their mood and his creativity when it comes to the scares, and in that respect, THE CONJURING 2 doesn’t disappoint.
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE
Though the surprise reveal and dubious marketing generated more excitement than it probably deserved, resulting in disappointment for those expecting to see a cameo from CLOVERFIELD’s excellent kaiju monster, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE nevertheless works as a superior claustrophobic thriller with some horror/sci-fi overtones it might actually have worked better without. The scant cast, led by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, are in top form, but John Goodman steals the show as the man who owns the shelter in which Winstead awakes to find herself imprisoned.
Another surprise announcement and another concept that on paper is reminiscent of something we’ve seen before (in this case, the 1967 Audrey Hepburn home invasion thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK), the material here is elevated both by Mike Flanagan’s stylish direction and a breakout performance by Kate Siegel as Maddie Young. Particularly impressive are the scenes in which we see the world via the filter of Young’s disabilities, and her resourcefulness in fending off her aggressor.
THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR
When it comes to sequels, THE PURGE series seems immune to the rule of diminishing returns, both in terms of quality and its box office. While I liked the first film just fine, I felt it squandered the possibilities of its irresistible setup by choosing to focus on a single crime rather than exploring the government sanction that makes such actions legal: The Purge itself. Thankfully, it addressed this shortcoming in the sequel and builds further on that in the third installment. Seldom has there been a horror series so primed to mirror the societal malaise and economical disparity of its times and thankfully, with each sequel, THE PURGE embraces that rather than just using it as a springboard for 90 minutes of mindless murder.
I loved Fede Alvarez’ remake of EVIL DEAD, and while I know many didn’t, it’s hard to deny the technical proficiency he brought to the table. It also had a wicked mean streak and that’s present again in Alvarez’s sophomore effort, DON’T BREATHE, which inverts the home invasion setup by making the intruders the ones in danger. It’s not a perfect film, particularly toward the end, but it’s fun, tasteless, and features a great villain in the form of Stephen Lang’s The Blind Man. There’s also a nice dash of social relevance to add weight and some justification to the crime that sparks it all.
With remarkable authenticity and attention to detail some found off-putting, THE WITCH (and no, I won’t write it with two Vs instead of a W) is arguably one of the year’s best films, one whose strength and appeal lies in being deeply unsettling on a primal level, no matter whether you choose to interpret the antagonist as either religious fervor itself, or the devil made manifest. It’s beautifully (and creepily) shot, with an evocative score, and strong performances all around. It’s also notable for somehow making a horror icon out of a goat.
Like BLUE RUIN before it (but absent that film’s dark humor), Jeremy Saulnier’s GREEN ROOM was already a tense and gloomy experience before news of Anton Yelchin’s tragic death made the news. And while one might wish for a cheerier swan song for the talented young actor, he was seldom better than he is here. A deeply disturbing story of a band who witness something they shouldn’t at a bar run by Neo-Nazis, and subsequently find themselves trapped in the titular room, the film is also notable for a rare villainous turn by the wonderful Patrick Stewart.
Reminiscent of John Carpenter’s THE FOG insofar as it feels like an old-fashioned campfire tale, director David F. Sandberg (working from a script by Eric Heisserer) adapts his own creepy short into a fun and concise horror film. Adding to the appeal is an unusually clever story which treats neither the characters nor the audience as idiots, terrific performances from all concerned, and some genuinely cool scares which make inventive use of light and dark. One scene in particular drew applause from the audience I saw it with by virtue of its creativity and humor.
The term “slow burn” can mean one of two things when it comes to film: either the burn builds to an explosive climax, or lack of oxygen extinguishes the flame. So many examples of the latter have stigmatized the term that a lot of horror fans actively avoid movies that feature those words in the review, but for evidence of a slow burn utilized to maximum effectiveness, one need look no further than Karyn Kusama’s brilliant THE INVITATION. It’s a taut, unnerving film about a man, Will (Logan Marshall-Green) who, along with his girlfriend, is invited to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new husband. That would be awkward enough, but rather quickly, Will begins to suspect that there’s an ulterior and sinister motive behind the invitation. Whether or not he’s right, or whether he’s just gone crazy, remains a mystery right up until the film’s final act, and what a final act it is.
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So there you have it, my list of what I consider to be the best horror films of the year so far. There are still a few months to go before we see 2017, so I will amend this list as needed for my year-end summation. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of films that belong on this list, or that I might have missed, feel free to let me know below.
In the midst of writing a new essay for Dancing with Shadows, The Charles L. Grant Blogathon, I realized that I had said many of the same things before, and much more succinctly, in my preface for Necon Books’ digital reissue of The Orchard, which is not only one of my favorite titles from Charlie’s extensive body of work, but also one of my favorite collections, period. So, rather than repeat myself, I thought it more prudent to share that essay with you here (with slight edits for clarity):
There’s no better time to write this introduction than today, October 24th, because this is Charlie’s season. As I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, the light is an eerie shade of tarnished gold through a persistent rain. Dead leaves scratch across the porch like dirty paper airplanes thrown by sullen children. The wind is not quite howling, but it’s considering it, as it whips through the woods around my house. The branches are gnarled and bare, casting long thin shadows that look like rotten ropes poised to pull in the encroaching dark. The earth is sodden, the air smells like smoke. The river is thick and full and muddy as it rushes under the small wooden bridge that leads away from here.
This is Charlie’s season.
And this is what I said to my girlfriend a few days ago as we bundled up and took a stroll along the lane that meanders through these woods. “I love fall,” I told her. “The quality of the light, the taste of the air…it’s Charlie Grant’s season.” She did not need to ask who I meant, as she has heard me go on (and on, and on, God bless her patience) at length about my favorite writer. I have read passages to her from his books; she has seen the towering stack of yellowed paperbacks bearing his name that materializes beside the bed at this same time every year. She knows I edited a book called Quietly Now, which was a celebration of the man and his work. And she has heard me speak of him as a writer whose style I emulate over all others. There are any number of reasons why this is the case, most of which I’ve covered in the various essays and tributes I’ve written since Charlie passed away, so I won’t rehash them here. Besides, if you’re reading this book now, then chances are you already know them.
Of everything Charlie wrote, my favorite books of his are those that combine quartets of stories linked by a central motif and packaged as novels, books like Nightmare Seasons, The Black Carousel, Dialing the Wind, and this one you’re reading now. It has long been argued that, for horror writers particularly, the novella is the ideal length for a story. It allows character development and plenty of darkness, while negating the need for rambling or filler. For the reader, it’s just long enough to be worth the investment, but not so long it seems daunting. Charlie seemed most at home with novellas, and indeed they represented him at the height of his power, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Orchard.
Here, our connective tissue is the titular venue, an old orchard on the outskirts of town that has somehow managed to be forgotten by most of the people in Oxrun Station. And perhaps it wants to be forgotten. There was a fire there, you see, and although apples still grow on the trees that escaped the flames, it is inadvisable to eat them. Doing so changes things, changes you, and unleashes an insidious evil, whether within or without.
But people will always find places not meant to be found, and amid the shifting mists and half-glimpsed shadows, the orchard spreads its tendrils into the minds of the weak, exploiting the unrequited love of poor, overweight Herb Alstar in “My Mary’s Asleep”, and the loneliness and paternal insecurities of policeman Brett, in the ironically titled, “I See Her Sweet and Fair”.
I read this book in my late teens, about seven years after it was released, and though I didn’t revisit it until Captain of the Good Ship Necon, Bob Booth, approached me to write this introduction, the one story that had never left me was “The Last and Dreadful Hour”, which I recalled with almost perfect clarity. It’s a terrifying piece, a veritable chiaroscuro of horror, and my favorite kind of story—one that traps people together in a single setting and pits them against some type of invasive, unknowable evil. After I first read this, visits to my dilapidated local movie theater were never quite the same, and as I sat in the gloom, usually alone, waiting for the movie to start, I would always find myself squinting into the shadows beneath the stained screen, wondering if there was something hiding there. It’s a testament to Charlie’s power that he can write something so moody, so dark and dirty, that it sticks in the mind decades after you first read it. And that’s one of the reasons I love his work so much. It is less a reading experience than an immersion into a meticulously crafted and lyrical carnival of shadows you find difficult to forget.
Similarly, the closing segment of The Orchard, “Screaming, In the Dark” documents a man trapped (this time by injury and not supernatural means) in a hospital bed as odd things begin to occur in the hallways and rooms around him. What I like most about this one is how Charlie subverts the use of darkness and somehow manages to make dazzling bursts of white light even more threatening.
The Orchard is bookended by the story of Abe Stockton, the current chief of police, who is not long for this world, and the man he brings to the orchard to educate about the ways of the place. To assist him, he has brought along some files, and it is those that make up the stories in the book. This introduction and epilogue could be considered incidental, but they’re anything but. In addition to making the book read more cohesively than most novels, they’re also just as skin-crawlingly unsettling as the stories themselves.
If you’re reading these stories for the first time, I envy you. And I can’t help wondering what Charlie would have made of seeing his work presented in digital form. Some authors still rail against the new medium, and I completely understand why. Like them, I too have a deep attachment to physical books. To me, it’s as much a part of the reading experience as the stories themselves, and it’s still how I prefer to read, if possible. The argument could, and has, been made that digital reading is too cold and impersonal, but to be fair, I think this misses the point. The medium is irrelevant, merely the means by which the stories are brought to you. Deliver them via papyrus scrolls, cave paintings, pulp, movies, audio, digital screen, retinal scan, or brain implant (for who knows what comes next!), it is the stories, and only the stories that matter. I don’t think Charlie would have cared how you read his work, only that you enjoyed it. And it is my hope that having his work available digitally exposes it to a new and expanded audience. It is nothing less than he deserved.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve prattled on long enough, and I am due another walk with my better half. It is the perfect day for such things, just as it is the perfect day to reminisce about my favorite writer and mentor.
Because now the light is fading and streetlights are coming on, sending shadows sprawling across the porch and toward the door. The wind has indeed risen to a howl, moaning once more about the things it seeks to change. The leaves are scratching at the door, tapping on the windows, asking to be let in, eager for me to come out. The river hurries on, and there’s a chill in the air that foretells of the coming storm.
It’s Charlie Grant’s season.
And it always will be.
You can now read my novella THE TENT for free on Wattpad.
“If JAWS was the story that made people stay away from the ocean, THE TENT is the mean little novella that will keep them out of the woods.” – Norman Partridge, author of DARK HARVEST.
“Burke has concocted a tasty mix of THE THING meets INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and he made sure to marinate it in a couple of gallons of blood before setting it free.” – FEARNET
I have a story (“Mr. Goodnight”) in the upcoming graphic novel anthology John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night, Volume 2, edited by Sandy King Carpenter. As a lifelong fan of John and Sandy King Carpenter’s work, to say it’s an honor to be included in this book is an understatement.
Look for the book in stores on October 18th, or preorder the book here.
From John Carpenter, the man who brought you the cult classic horror film Halloween and all of the scares beyond comes 12 more twisted tales of terror, tricks, and treats. In volume 2 of the award-winning graphic novel series, Carpenter brings together another stellar ensemble of storytellers from the worlds of movies, novels and comics for a collection of stories that will haunt your dreams at night.