Friday, November 6, 2015

Utterly Disturbed

It's a rare thing for me to be utterly disturbed, but that is what has happened this morning when doing random bits of general research on the web. General research is what I do when between novels. The little tidbits I pick up get put into the back of my mind where they act like seeds that might one day sprout into something that will work for a short story or novel. There is no conscious tending to this plot of mental landscape where the seeds are allowed to grow. They are left to do their own thing, and if that thing becomes grand, I harvest it. Today, I feel like something grand may be in the works, the seed of disturbing information - coupled with a screenshot I was not expecting to see - having landed in a nice soft patch of soil that has been fertilized by the decaying sprouts of ideas that never got the chance to fully bloom. We shall see what comes of it . . . if I have the stomach to venture near the horrific growth and pluck what I need.

New Arrival: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories My Mother Never Told Me

Actually, in my case, I'm guessing my mother not only told me stories like these, but probably ones that were even more intense and disturbing.  What can I say, I had a fantastically terrifying childhood. It was great.  My mother and grandmother were huge horror fans, and would never shy away from sharing stories with me and my brother that would leave us shaken to the core.  One time, my grandmother actually convinced us that the family that had lived in the house before her had been murdered, all the children decapitated, heads missing, the mother found kneeling in the back bedroom with a knife, covered in blood, chanting, "I'm looking for my children."  She then told us that the squirrel nests up in the trees that you could see in the dead of winter were actually the heads of those children, the long continuously growing hair having gotten all tangled up with leaves.  Oh, and naturally the crazy mother had recently escaped from the mental hospital and would likely come looking for her children once again.

For everyone else, however, this title may be accurate because they likely did not come face to face with such stories while growing up, and for me, I simply can't wait to dive into the tales that Hitchcock selected for this volume.  Prior to this, I read Alfred Hitchcock's Noose Report and was blown away by how amazing and terrifying the stories were.  A couple of them actually left me chilled, which doesn't happen too often.  The best of them was the first by Robert Bloch titled "Home Away From Home."  My god, the twist in that was just spectacular.

And now I hope to experience a repeat of those chills as I open up this anthology.  Nothing would please me more than to be sitting in the reading chair downstairs, house darkness broken only by my one reading lamp, a cup of tea sitting by my side, a cold November wind stirring up the October leaves outside, my mind terrified by the words I just read.  Such does not happen often these days, so when it does, it is a moment to be cherished.

Friday, October 30, 2015

This Looks Like a Fun One: Office Party By Michael A. Gilbert

The other day, while thumbing through the main Facebook feed on my phone, I came across this book cover and instantly tried to kill the momentum my thumb-scrolling had generated with the feed.  A few seconds later, image steady on my phone, I typed in the author name and book title into Amazon and hit SEARCH.  Bingo.  One used paperback copy please!  A week later (two days ago to be exact), it was waiting in a tiny tightly wrapped envelope by my door.  I love such moments.  I also love thrillers that take place in locations that are typically filled with people, but nearly empty within the story.  Think books like Dean Koontz's The Bad Place or the movie Die Hard (I read the book of that as well, but didn't really like it).  I'm not sure why, but I always love the idea of being in giant public places after hours.  In fact, I wrote a novel once that featured some people trapped in a mall during a blizzard who were being hunted by a deranged serial killer.  Fun, fun!  They should make that one into a movie (hint! hint!).  My friends and I also once managed to get inside a college library after hours and roamed all the empty floors, an experience that is just begging to be developed into a novel one of these days.

Anyway, I haven't actually read this book, so I can't comment on the story just yet.  However, given how much fun I think (hope) this one will be, I'm going to bump it up to the top of the To Be Read list (sorry, Jack Reacher, Running Blind will have to wait a bit).  Until then . . .

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Next On My Reading List . . . Panic by Helen McCloy

One of the greatest things about the Internet is the ability to find items that no longer populate store shelves.  Prior to the Internet, finding such items was possible, but could be incredibly difficult, especially if you didn't know what you were looking for.  Panic by Helen McCloy is a perfect example of this.  Published in 1944, I had never before heard of this title or this author until stumbling upon a book cover image on the Vintage Paperback and Book Covers Facebook Page.  Intrigued, I went to Amazon and voila, a week later I had an old Dell paperback copy of Panic waiting for me in the mail.  Best of all, it seems Helen McCloy penned quite a few novels, many of them featuring a continuing detective-like character named Dr. Basil Willing, so, if I enjoy this title and the writing style, chances are I will be making even more orders.  Hell, even if I don't quite enjoy this one, which could happen (fingers crossed it doesn't given how fun the cover looks), I will probably still seek out a few more titles, especially ones featuring Dr. Basil Willing.

Have any of you read any of Helen McCloy's work?  If so, what did you think?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Random Reading Pic

Facebook did one of those 'remember this post from last year' things and showed me this picture that I posted in October 2014.  And now I am now showing it to you all.  Truth be told, I'm not sure why I never posted this one last year, because it captured my involvement in a very memorable reading experience, that being my enjoyment of the novel Covenant with the Vampire by Jeanne Kalogridis.

I had bought the book a few weeks earlier while shopping at Half Price Books with my mom.  During that trip the two of us happened upon several titles that all turned out great, titles that were parts of larger bodies of work that we quickly bought in their entirety and read.  The most famous of those other titles would have to be The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  My mom read that one while I read Covenant.  I then read Dragon while waiting to head to Half Price Books to get the rest of the Covenant trilogy, all while my mom bought the rest of the Dragon trilogy.  Within a few weeks I had completed both trilogies.  It was great.  During that first trip we also bought books by Steven Saylor and Jo Nesbo.  Saylor writes fantastic first person novels about a citizen in the Roman Republic named Gordianus the Finder who is the equivalent of a modern day private investigator in the ancient world, and Nesbo writes detective novels about a Norwegian police office named Harry Hole that works out of Oslo.  Both series are ones that I highly recommend.

I also recommend the Family Dracul trilogy by Jeanne Kalogridis, of which Covenant with the Vampire pictured above is the first.  Not since my discovery of Brian Lumley's Necroscope series back in 2001 have I enjoying a vampire series so much.  In fact, this one and that one are the only two vampire series I have ever really enjoyed.  Vampires are a tough sell for me.  There are many stand alone novels that I have really liked and would recommend, Salem's Lot by Stephen King and Midnight Mass by F. Paul Wilson being two that pop into my head, but when it comes to series with continuing characters, Necroscope by Brian Lumley and the Family Dracul trilogy mentioned above are the only two where I have craved the next book to the point of rushing out and buying all of them simply so I don't have to wait between reads.  

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Movies That Really REALLY Scared Me

My brother Tom and I were no stranger to horror movies while growing up, mostly because our mother and grandmother were huge horror fans.  As a child, I was chilled by Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels without even reading them simply because my mother would share with us what was happening within as she read them.  She wouldn't actually read the scenes to us (the only exception being the prologue of Darkfall), but simply sum them up, which was terrifying in itself as our imaginations filled in the details.  And then there were the movies she and our grandmother would watch with us, typically around Halloween because that is when they would be on TV.

The Haunting (1963)

I will never forget sitting down to watch this chilling haunted house movie with my mother one Halloween night when I was in grade school (can't remember what year exactly, but it might have been when I was in the fifth grade).  It was a movie my mother had found listed within the TV Guide, one that she showed me with the question on whether or not I would want to watch it with her.  The answer was a big resounding YES!  Little did I know what I was getting into.  Same was true with her.  The movie terrified us.  Making it even creepier, it was airing on a channel that would tease you with a tiny clip from later in the movie whenever it returned from the commercial break, that clip being one that showed Eleanor running down the hallway in terror.  Why was she running?  Was something chasing her?  Would I be able to keep watching until that scene or would I be too scared?  I made it to the credits, but that didn't bring about an end to the terror the movie produced.  The idea of ghosts in the real world have never really frightened me, but when in the context of a haunted house movie, they can chill me to the core.  And when it came to this movie, I kept thinking about it long after it had concluded, the terror the movie had inflicted upon me returning each time.  The best part of all, however, was the fact that this movie scared me again when I was 22, which was the next time I watched it.  It aired one night on Turner Classic Movies and my entire family sat down in the basement TV room to watch it.  Whoa!  Talk about remembering why I had been so scared as a child.  Especially that 'hold my hand' scene.  Shiver!

Silver Bullet (1985)

Go ahead and laugh.  I won't blame you.  In fact, I'm laughing a bit myself, though in a cautious sort of way since the terror this movie inflicted upon me is still lurking somewhere in the back of my mind.  The viewing occurred around Halloween back when I was in the sixth grade.  I was at my grandmother's house at the time helping my grandfather set up his Trail of Terror in the woods next to his house, which was a yearly tradition that scared the crap out of us grandchildren.  Darkness had arrived, so we were done for the day, and my grandmother suggested we watch a movie titled Silver Bullet that she had spotted within the TV Guide.  We agreed and yikes! I was terrified of werewolves for months afterward.  The scene that stuck with me the longest and would send a chill down my spine whenever I thought about it was the one where the female character is getting ready to kill herself with pills while in a second floor bathroom.  Through the window you can see the shadow outline of the werewolf standing there.  I don't know why, but that outline scared me to death, and for a long time afterward I was very cautious of being around any windows where a werewolf (or some other horrific creature of evil) could lurk beyond and come crashing through the glass at me.  Equally chilling was the scene where the guy is walking through what I think was a type of green house, and you see the eyes of the werewolf watching him through the crack in the floorboards.  Holy hell, scenes like that always get me!

Child's Play 1, 2 and 3

Believe it or not, there used to be a time in this county when an an eleven year old could babysit kids long into the night without anyone thinking anything of it.  For me, those long into the night babysitting adventures occurred just about every Friday and Saturday night when local neighborhood parents wanted to go out on child-free dates.  Now, most of the time, I would endure the long hours into the night by watching The Three Stooges which often played on The Family Channel for hours after that weird 700 Club show.  One time, however, around Halloween, I decided against the Stooges and went to USA instead because they were doing a Child's Play marathon -- all three movies back to back (yeah, there were only three movies back then and that was all there ever needed to be).   To this day, I don't remember much of the viewing experience, just that I was glued to the couch in terror as I watched the first and part of the second movie.  I then missed about twenty minutes of the second one as the parents came back and took me home, but then continued with the last third of the second one and watched the third one in my parents basement before going to bed.  Needless to say, my fear of Chucky, which had actually started when I was much younger due to having seen a TV spot for one of the movies when I was five, was huge for the next several weeks, my eyes constantly checking areas for the evil doll in all the hiding spots of a room before I got comfortable.  The best part of all with this is that I can distinctly remember my mother, who as we have established, often encouraged my viewing of horror movies, telling me NOT to watch the Child's Play movies while babysitting.  To this day, I wonder if she said that so I WOULD watch them and be terrified from them.  Hmm . . . ?

Arachnophobia (1990)

Here we have a movie that I didn't see during the Halloween season.  Instead, this one was rented as a good 'sleepover' movie one summer night following the conclusion of first grade when my friend Russell and Tom's friend Sarah were staying the night.  By the end of the movie, Russell, Tom and Sarah were all in the playroom rather than the TV room because it was too scary for them.  I was still watching it with my mom and dad.  This one didn't produce the same terror aftereffect that the ones listed above did, but it still stuck with me for a long time, mainly because the idea of exotic spiders somehow arriving in an unsuspecting community and wreaking havoc seemed possible.  Making it worse, would there be any warning?  What if I reached for a banana at the grocery store and a giant spider was there having been shipped with them, or what if I was forced to try on some clothes at a clothing store and spider eggs within the fabric hatched just as I put my arm through the sleeve.  Eeks!  Of course, the best part of this horror movie experience wasn't so much that it scared me, but that it left my brother completely traumatized when it comes to spiders.  It's great.  He has been to war and back, facing and overcoming terror that most of us could never understand, but when it comes to spiders, he needs help in ridding the threat.  And by ridding the threat, that typically means me carefully taking the spider outside so it can eat bugs in the bushes.  Oh and by the way, the new house we bought out in the farm areas of Illinois has so many spiders that our backdoor was once incased in a web that made an audible tearing sound when we opened it.  I love it.    

Jaws (1975)

Let's go with another one that I didn't view during the Halloween season.  In fact, I have no idea when I saw Jaws for the first time, but I know it scared me.  Actually, scared might not be the right word.  Traumatized is more accurate.  After all, I still don't swim in the ocean.  It isn't a fear of the shark from the movie that does it, but the fear that there are plenty of things down there with teeth that might not mind making a meal out of me, sharks being among them.  Now I know the chances of my ending up as an appetizer for a shark are slim, but even so, I prefer staying on the beach where the chances go from slim to none.  I'm the same way with flying.  Chances are good I won't die in a plane crash, but they are even better if I choose not to fly all together.  Of course, sometimes I can't help but flying, and once I had to fly in a dinky puddle jumper from one island to another, my view of the ocean below so good that I could actually see sharks in the water.  I'm surprised fate didn't try to pull a double whammy on me, causing a plane crash into the ocean where I would then get bitten by a shark.  Anyhow, this movie is one that scared me to death when I was younger, then again when I was older and then again as an adult, though not as much as it did when I was younger since I've now seen it so many times that I now simply watch if because I love it rather than because it scares me.  But I still won't get in the water, so the fear is there, and I say the movie is a big part of it.  Or maybe it is just common sense, don't go into an environment where you can easily become a meal?  Maybe I would have thought this way even if there was no movie Jaws.  We will never know.

Friday the 13th Part One and Two

Back to movies that I saw during the Halloween season.  Boy did these two get me good.  It was on Halloween night during my freshman year in high school.  The tricker or treaters were all done and I was in the dark basement hoping that Halloween (1978) was on.  It wasn't, but I did come across a movie that was already playing on Monster Vision hosted by Joe Bob Briggs.  I had no idea what the movie was, but it featured a middle age woman and young teenage / twenty something female talking about a boy that had drowned.  The woman then pulled a knife and well, I watched a chase scene unfold.  I also heard the name Jason and started to wonder if this was the first Friday the 13th, which I had never seen before but, thanks to the Scream movie (which I love, so no bashing it here), knew the killer in the original was the mother (spoiler) rather than Jason himself.  It was, and somehow I was chilled by the thought of this movie even though I didn't get to see all of it.  Following this, the second one came on, and that one scared the shit out of me.  In fact, it scared me so much that I actually found a sense of relief when I saw that Halloween night was actually over thanks to the midnight  hour having arrived.  It was now November first and I could rest easy.  Later that year, the first Friday the 13th aired on TV and I got to watch it from the beginning, and you know what, it scared me just as much as the second one did all those months earlier.  Best of all, it scared my brother too when I bought a VHS copy a year later.  He wasn't planning on watching it with me that night, but then got hooked when he walked in and saw the scene with the ax shadow rising up on the wall behind one of the female victims.   This led to us watching all nine movies, one for each Friday of our summer vacation.  It was great!

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

Believe it or not my first foray in the Halloween movie territory came not with the original Halloween movie, but with Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  I was in the third grade at the time, and my brother and I were spending the night at my grandmother's house.  In the TV Guide she spotted a movie that she simply called Season of the Witch and asked us if we wanted to watch it.  A horror movie about witches?  Of course we did.  As it turns out, it wasn't really about witches, but that didn't mare the movie in our opinion, nor the terror, as we watched wide-eyed as the tale unfolded on the tiny screen.  To this day, I don't remember all that much of that original viewing experience, but I do know that it terrified me.  I mean, seriously, what if some crazy mask maker created a mask that would react to a TV image and squeeze my head, and worse, what if my knowledge of the potential would result in him sending one of those robot people after me?  Best for me to simply stay simply stay away from masks in general, and to not piss off any mask makers.  Oh, and what the fuck is with movie leaving us not knowing what happened?  As a child, if I watched a horror movie, I needed the movie to end with me knowing that everything was okay and that the evil had been nullified.  With this one (spoiler alert, blah blah blah) we don't know if that third TV program gets shut off.  Did all those kids get their heads squeezed to a bloody pulp?  Gah, I need to know!!

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

Christmas morning back when I was in the third or forth grade.  I can't remember which one it was exactly, but one of the gifts my grandmother got me was a VHS of Invasion of the Body Snatchers because she loved the movie when she was younger, and thought I would as well given that I loved creepy black and white thrillers.  Oh wait, not realizing the movie had been remade, she grabbed the wrong one.  And she wasn't there to tell me this when I sat down to watch it one snowy January night.  Jesus Christ, for someone in grade school, this movie was terrifying.  So terrifying, that I turned it off during the mud bath scene after the body opens its eyes.  Not long after that, maybe about a month later, my grandmother asked me if I had liked Invasion and I informed her that it was too scary.  Surprised by this, she agreed to watch it with me and the other grandchildren one night when we were all over for Camp Grandma - a week long stay that my grandmother had every summer that was just like going to camp -- which is when she realized she had gotten me the wrong one.  We were also all really surprised by the really long topless scene toward the end of the film, but given my grandmother's opinion on nudity -- they're just boobs! -- she didn't make us turn it off.  My brother and I have been terrified of this movie ever since and it wasn't until last year that we dared watch it again.

Halloween (1978)

And here we have it, I saved the best for last.  Halloween was another one of those movies that I watched with my mother on Halloween night, this time when I was in the seventh grade.  If I had to pick the scariest movie I have ever seen, Halloween and The Haunting would be tied.  The music, atmosphere and the mask are what did it, things that none of the other Michael Myer's movies have been able to get right.  For months following this viewing I was terrifying of Michael Myer's, and to this day, I still sometimes have nightmares of him coming after me.  He is unstoppable.  All the movies have noted this, but it was the first one that established it, and even without those other movies reinforcing it, it is pretty clear that if Michael Myer's has his eyes set on you, you will not be able to get away.  Bullets to the head didn't do it, so what chance would I, a seventh grade kid who didn't own a gun, have?  The answer, none.

One of the things I remember most about my first viewing of this film was again the way the TV channel gave a tiny sneak peak of what was to come as they returned from the commercials.  During this viewing, it was an image of Jamie Lee Curtis peering over the edge of the couch with the kitchen knife.  That scene would show itself every time the commercials came to an end, making me wonder what exactly was going to happen between now and that scene.  I also wondered if I would actually be able to watch until that scene, or if I would be too scared to continue.  In the end, I was able to watch it until that scene and beyond, my seventh grade mind brave enough to finish the movie.  Okay, it wasn't really bravery, but a need to know that all ended well, that the masked villain was killed and that I could rest easy.  Dammit John Carpenter.  Why did you have to express the notion that evil never dies!?

So, there we have it, some of the movies that really REALLY scared me when I was younger.  This is not a complete list, since I have left out The Blob, Jurassic Park and some other movie that I know are there but whose titles escape me, but it is enough for now.  What movies terrified you?