The Howling Reborn

October 27 , 2011 | | In: Movie Reviews

It’s been a long time since the original film, The Howling, was released.  Thirty years, actually.  A lot has changed since 1981, but there is one constant that we can almost always rely on:  any subsequent Howling entry, be it a sequel or remake or re-imagining or whatever, the quality will be a toss up.  It’s either going to be good or bad, with very little room in between.  That’s what makes this attempted reboot of the series such an oddity- it’s not that good, but I can’t dislike it completely.

There have been mutterings and rumors on the World Wide Weird that Reborn was going to be more Twilight than The Howling.  I can see that.  There is a romance between a werewolf and a human girl, but I didn’t really find this to be a Twilight rip-off; I think since the Twilight franchise is all but an extra limb of our culture now, we can’t help draw comparisons between it and a horror-themed movie with a young cast of characters experiencing a budding supernatural romance.  It’s a sad day when that happens.  Reborn is more amusing though.

The Howling Reborn doesn’t offer anything new to the werewolf genre, other than Lindsey Shaw as Eliana Wynter, the love interest of new werewolf Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron).  For most of the first half of the film, it’s difficult to tell if it was the The Howling or An American Werewolf In Paris being given the redo treatment.  Will isn’t that interesting, he’s a amalgamation of every nerdy teen loser in, pretty much, just about every Dead Teenager Movie horror has seen.  He has a best friend who is an aspiring screenwriter and an expert on werewolves.  When Will discovers he is one, he also learns of a nefarious plot to create more lycanthropes by a seedy gang of other werewolves.

Somehow, this all goes down in their high school.  The bad werewolf gang pays off the security guard, and…you should probably just watch it.  You could waste your time in worse ways.

This is not a classic by any means; it’s the farthest thing from it.  Yet, it does have moments where it actually works.  It also has those moments of complete idiocy and those times where it just disgraces the original (although, most of the sequels in this franchise disgraced the original, too, so it keeps that tradition alive).  There is some witty dialogue, some bad acting, some horrible writing and directing, but it’s cool when the most annoying characters get killed off.  A few of them anyway.

If this is the first in a new series of Howling movies, it wouldn’t take much to turn this around into something better.  If the producers want to do more than cash in on the youth craze, there is some potential here.  But that’s a big “if”.

2.5 out of 5
John Jason
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Hallows Eve

October 26 , 2011 | | In: Book Reviews

Some towns have all the luck.  Take Orangefield, for instance.  They are the pumpkin capital of the world.  Every Halloween, the town hosts a pumpkin festival that boasts pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, bands of every musical variety, games, food, good old fashioned fun, and death.  That’s right, death.  Every Halloween in Orangefield, Samhain, the Lord of the Dead, pays a few visits to Orangefield since the veil that separates this world and the next is at its thinnest, allowing him easy access to cross over and cause some havoc and bloodshed.

Some towns have all the luck, it’s just that sometimes that luck is all bad.

This year, Corrie Phaeder has chosen to return home after a twelve year absence.  Actually, he didn’t really choose to return to Orangefield, he was sort of compelled.  He really never had the intention, at least not of his own free will, to come back to his hometown, especially since most people think he murdered his own mother.  Detective Bill Grant, a rough and tumble guy you don’t want to cross or wrong, is one of those people who believes Corrie got away with matricide.  Of course Grant knows that things aren’t always what they seem in Orangefield, particularly at Halloween.

Corrie returns because he’s been haunted since he was seven years old by something.  He thought they were dreams, or hallucinations, but they are very much real.  And these spirits that torment him, and others in town, will only become worse as Halloween approaches.  Samhain wants Corrie, Detective Grant, and few others out of the way because the Dark Lord has some plans for the entirety of reality.  It’s up to Corrie to put a stop it.  At least that’s what the scarecrow has told him.

This is the first book of Al Sarrantonio’s Orangefield stories, and like the other two (Horrorween and Halloweenland), it’s a mixed bag.  Sarrantonio is such a good writer, though, the book is entertaining and keeps you glued, but he tries to stuff too much into Hallows Eve.  It’s forty-two pages too long.  Horrorween contained the excellent story “Hornets” (and then some mediocre ones), and Halloweenland had the bonus novella “The Baby” (which Sarrantonio worked into the first chapter; the rest of the book wasn’t as good).  Hallows Eve is a complete novel, and is really good in spots, very evocative, but goes dim in certain areas when all the supernatural beings have to have meetings to discuss this and that.  It takes away too much from the creepy fun, and it dissipates some of the mystery and dread.

But there is something just Halloweenishly attractive about the Orangefield stories.  Al Sarrantonio just knows how to write October, you know.  You can practically feel the chill in the air and smell the candles burning in the jack o’ lanterns.  This is a good book, but not a great one, but it is just right for the season.  That can be said for the other two Orangefield books as well.  Nice for this time of year. It’s worth a read if you can find it.

3 out of 5
John Jason

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October 26th: M. R. James

October 26 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

Montague Rhodes James was a highly respected medieval scholar.  In 1902, he discovered a manuscript fragment that led to an excavation in the ruins of the abbey at Bury St. Edmunds, West Suffolk.  This excavation uncovered the graves of 12th Century abbots that had been lost since the 1500s.  He did Latin translations, and even translated the New Testament Apocrypha.  But M. R. James is best remembered, and regarded, for his ghost stories.

James was born August 1st, 1862, in Goodnestone Parsonage in Kent, England, and he lived the majority of his life in Suffolk.  He lived for many years at King’s College, Cambridge, as an undergraduate, then as don and provost.  King’s College is the setting for several of his stories.

According to James, the story must “put the reader into the position of saying to himself: ‘If I’m not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!’” He also perfected the technique of narrating supernatural events through implication and suggestion, letting his reader fill in the blanks, and focusing on the mundane details of his settings and characters in order to throw the horrific and bizarre elements into greater relief. He summed up his approach in his foreword to the anthology Ghosts and Marvels (Oxford, 1924): “Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.… Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.”  He also noted: “Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.”

Many of his stories were written as Christmas Eve entertainments; telling ghost stories at Christmas was a Victorian tradition.  He often read these stories to his friends and family as part of the holiday festivities.  His ghost stories followed a basic formula, but that didn’t stop them from becoming popular, or from James being hailed as the greatest writer of ghost stories in history.

For further information on M. R. James, please visit Wikipedia, the source of this article.

Suggested reading:  Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

A selection of free stories by M. R. James can be found at Project Gutenberg

John Jason
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October 25th: The Haunting of Hill House

October 25 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill house, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

That is the first paragraph to Shirley Jackson’s classic novel of the supernatural, The Haunting of Hill House.  If there is a greater opening passage in the realm of literature, I don’t know it.  It is one of my favorite passages from any work, and it sets the stage for what will be a weird, chilling, cerebral tale of terror and suspense.

Hoping to experience a true haunted house, Dr. Montague arranges for a vacation at Hill House, purportedly plagued by ghosts.  Luke, a thief and liar who stands to inherit the foreboding mansion, hosts the good doctor and two other guests Montague has invited:  Eleanor, a recluse and socially awkward young lady, with psychic ability, who has spent the last few years caring for her sick mother, and Theodora, a vivacious woman who accepted the invitation mainly just for kicks.

Hill House is a home of turbulent history rife with death and even suicide.  It has never been considered a happy place, afflicted with bad luck practically from the day it was built.  Hugh Crain, the patriarch who had it constructed as the base of his empire, lost three wives while living at Hill House.  His first wife died in a carriage accident in the driveway on her initial visit to the place.


With sprawling lawns and woods, the entire estate is huge.  The house itself is full of dark rooms, unexplained noises, and doors that close by themselves.  But is it truly haunted?  A lot of interior rooms have no windows, and the doors are hung at a slant so that they will close on their own; the slanted doors can also cause a certain delirium in guests.  The general impression of the house is one of sadness.  Is there really something supernatural lurking the halls of Hill House, or is it all the product of someone’s fractured and fragile psychological state?

According to the Wall Street Journal, The Haunting of Hill House is ”now widely regarded as the greatest haunted-house story ever written.”  If you’re looking for blood and guts, look elsewhere.  If you’re looking for a true classic of the genre, a story that will keep you up at night with the lights on and goosebumps on your arms while your heart races, you’ve found your home at last.

John Jason

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October 24th: Sin-Eaters

October 24 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the term “sin-eater”, a rather poor Heath Ledger film pops in my head.  But I don’t want to share with you my thoughts on that disappointing motion picture, I want to share a little about real sin-eaters.  There actually were sin-eaters, and, even though they reached the height of their prominence some centuries ago, it’s a service that is said to still be practiced today.

It was once believed that if a soul was not freed from its sins before the body was buried, it would not pass on to paradise but be cursed to haunt our would every Halloween.  To prevent their loved ones such a torment, families often employed sin-eaters.  A sin-eater would place food or drink on the dead body, allowing it to absorb, through ritual means, the sins of the deceased.  The sin-eater would then consume that food or beverage, thus “eating the sins” and freeing the soul of the departed.  And they did this until the dead’s family was satisfied that the job was done, until they felt their lost loved one’s sins were completely ingested by the sin-eater.  When the grieving family was happy, the sin-eater was paid and ushered out the door.

Sin-eaters were usually poor, either from impoverished families trying to survive, or they were beggars going town to town to provide their services.  Some towns kept a sin-eater on retainer; and the families that practiced this religious magic often passed the job down from generation to generation.  To have a couple within the family was convenient as the only way a sin-eater could exorcise the sins they collected was for another sin-eater to eat the sins.

For further reading please consult Gerina Dunwich’s A Witch’s Halloween.

Picture: Sin Eater by flea-sha

John Jason

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Lawrence Talbot, yes, that Lawrence Talbot afflicted with the curse of the werewolf, has a special request of a friend.  Not just any friend, though– his friend is a scientist with a great intellect and some powerful connections.  Talbot is looking for something very specific:  his soul.

Harlan Ellison’s Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38° 54′ N, Longitude 77° 00′ 13″ W will probably be the strangest story to make it onto this year’s countdown.  I’m certain it will be the most challenging.  I don’t want to give away too much of the story; you just have to read it, and then you may have to read it again.  I admit, it’s something else.  It gets weird.  But it’s a great example of Ellison’s work.

You can find it in Harlan Ellison’s classic short story collection Deathbird Stories.

John Jason

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October 22nd: Butterbeer

October 22 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

Original Butterbeer

1 cup butterscotch schnapps
7 cups cream soda (almost one 2 liter bottle)

Carefully mix just before serving, adding the schnapps to the soda then stirring gently to mix well, or the fizz will dissipate too soon. To keep butterbeer on hand, pour 1 cup cream soda out of the 2-liter bottle, quickly add 1 cup butterscotch schnapps, and recap the bottle.

Makes 2 quarts.

Butterbeer Light (non-alcoholic)

1 cup sugar-free butterscotch or English Toffee flavoring syrup (Torani’s or similar)
7 cups diet cream soda (almost one 2 liter bottle)

Carefully mix just before serving, adding the butterscotch flavoring to the soda then stirring gently to mix well, or the fizz will dissipate too soon. To keep butterbeer on hand, pour 1 cup cream soda out of the 2-liter bottle, quickly add 1 cup butterscotch flavoring, and recap the bottle. Sugar-free and alcohol-free.

Makes 2 quarts.

Recipes and image originally found at Britta Blvd.

Literal Remains

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October 21st: Insidious

October 21 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

Josh and Renai Lambert have moved into a new house.  It’s a big house, with plenty of rooms for them and their three children (the youngest still in-diapers new) and an attic.  The attic proves a little treacherous for their son Dalton, who likes to wear a cape and play superhero.  Dalton takes a spill in the attic from a creaky old ladder, and hurts his pride more than anything else.  It’s quite weird then when Dalton slips into a coma.  The doctors run every test they know, and come up short with no answers to this medical mystery.

With doctor and hospital bills mounting, Josh, a teacher, is working as much, and as late, as he can.  Renai, a songwriter, is taking care of the house and the kids while trying to craft some tunes in between.  Dalton is at home, comatose, on a feeding tube.  With Josh away from home so much, it’s good ol’ mom who notices that things aren’t quite right in their new big comfy house.  There’s too many bumps in the night and one too many angry voices coming over the baby monitor.  Not to mention the other people Renai sees walking around the house.

Renai convinces Josh that they have just chosen a bad house to live in.  So they move again.  This new house isn’t so massive and scary, it doesn’t have that Spooky House look, you know.  So the Lambert family is home free.  That assumption is dead wrong.  Whatever was haunting them at their previous residence, has followed them.  What they soon learn, and what any of us have learned from the movie’s advertising campaign, is that it’s not the house that’s haunted– it’s Dalton.  There are spirits, and a demon, vying for possession of the boy’s body.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think they make a pill for that.


I love this movie.  I don’t know why I waited so long to see it.  I actually got chills watching Insidious, it’s a creepy little movie.  I love a ghost story, and this is one of the best I’ve seen in a very long time.  It ranks up there with Poltergeist, a movie I thought it was going to rip off, and it does borrow from that classic in the last act, but it doesn’t do it in a cheap way.

Insidious is a beautiful film to look at, excellent production design and cinematography.  From the big spooky house at the start of the film to the smaller, ordinary, house the family moves into later, the filmmakers have suffused the atmosphere with true creepiness.  Director James Wann and writer Leigh Whannell (creators of the Saw franchise) have filled Insidious with some really unsettling and scary imagery.  A great movie that tells a great story.

This is a perfect movie for the Halloween season.

5 out of 5
John Jason

 

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‘Zombie’ Comic From the CDC

October 21 , 2011 | | In: Pieces of Me

Last May the Centers for Disease Control posted this article on their site, Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  That was all a good deal of informative fun, informing the public what to do in case of a real emergency.  At least I hope they aren’t expecting a zombie outbreak.

Well, the CDC is at it again, just in time for Halloween, releasing a comic.  Its title says it all:  Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.   I’ll have to check that out, and you do the same.  We can never be prepared enough.

 

 

 

John Jason

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Dark Harvest

October 20 , 2011 | | In: Book Reviews

It’s 1963 and it’s Halloween in an anonymous small Midwestern town.  This little town that appears to be like so many others through the country has one Halloween tradition that no one else has.  For five days before October 31st, families lock their teenage sons in their rooms without food or drink, and then release them on Halloween night, hopefully gas, stoked, and ready to go, and blood thirsty, to hunt for the October Boy.  Whichever lucky young man brings down the October Boy before he can reach the town center and ring the church bell gets to leave town and venture out into the world, and his family is treated like royalty for the next year.

The October Boy, or Ol’ Hacksaw Face or Sawtooth Jack (pick a name), is resurrected every year by a group of men from the community called the Harvester’s Guild.  The October Boy is a scarecrow made of vines, cornstalks and husks, topped with a carved pumpkin head, and stuffed with candy (I wouldn’t lie to you).  His goal is to slash and massacre his way to the church to ring the bell.  It’s the job of the desperate army of young men to stop him, because if he rings that bell, the town and life as the townsfolk know it will end.  Luckily, the October Boy has never succeeded.

This year, Pete McCormick is old enough to hunt.  And he wants to win the hunt at all costs.  He wants to escape the town, his failure father, and the memory of his deceased mother.  The object of the game changes for Pete, though, when he uncovers some truths to the morbid traditions of his hometown.  Hunting the October Boy, being hunted by a villainous cop, rescuing a girl, and fighting off the other guys who want out of the cursed town also, Halloween is a very dangerous night in these parts.

Too bad there’s no real tension to be found.  Dark Harvest is a book I can’t really recommend.  This slender volume is okay, but it’s just too damn silly at times.  The twists are interesting, but things like the October Boy stealing a car and cruising through town…just silly; and it often had a bloated sense of self-importance.  It’s at turns violent, at times poignant, but tries too hard for sentiment.  The overall feel is humdrum and empty, and not really memorable or deep.  I like Norman Partridge’s style of storytelling here, but I wish it was a better story.

2 out of 5
John Robinson 

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Mask Maker

October 20 , 2011 | | In: Movie Reviews

For his girlfriend’s birthday, instead of buying her an engagement ring, Evan buys Jennifer an old decaying 19th Century plantation house out smack dab in the middle of nowhere.  The crumbling house comes with forty acres, stocked full of antiques, and its own little family cemetery that belonged to the previous owners.  That the house hadn’t been occupied in about fifty years or so, and that it was all available for a bargain basement price, should have clued Evan to the fact that this place had a right frightening, and bloody, history.

They discover that before long, though, don’t worry.  Evan removes a staff from the cemetery that was sticking up out of the ground.  Actually, it was a grave, and it was a ceremonial voodoo staff that was impaled into the crazed, hideously deformed, Leonard, a man saved from death by his French voodoo mama, and it was the only thing keeping the crazed killer dead and buried.  With the staff gone, he rises from his resting place, killing and ripping peoples’ faces off and wears them as a mask.  Thus, the title of the movie.

You’re probably thinking, “been there, done that”, well let me tell you…you’re right, but don’t completely dismiss Mask Maker.  This is a slasher movie that you’ve seen, probably, a thousand times or more.  Out of all those other movies that come to mind watching this one, such as Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream, and especially The Texas Chainsaw MassacreMask Maker isn’t as good as some of those movies (or some of their sequels), but it is a lot better than some of them.  This was actually an enjoyable and diverting little cut’em up, which was a surprise considering it has the uninspired tagline of “Meet your maker”.

Terry Kiser, forever to be remembered as Bernie of Weekend at Bernie’s fame, plays an unstable local who helped dispose of Leonard all those years ago, and his performance is wonderfully unhinged and over the top.  Genre vet and fan favorite Michael Berryman displays some nice acting chops as another local who knows the town’s, and Leonard’s, dark past.  The principal cast of college kids gathering at a farmhouse for the weekend to be killed off is actually pretty good, too.  These actors can actually act.

Mask Maker doesn’t raise the bar or forge into new ground, but I think it does set a standard for low budget filmmaking, I think we horror fans can use it to issue a challenge to other filmmakers.  This is professional filmmaking, this is a good work, a quality production on a small budget.  Even the music rocks.  I think a lot of independent filmmakers can look to Mask Maker as an example of what can be accomplished.  It’s a good time.

4 out of 5
John Jason 

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October 20th: Kids’ Werewolf Costume

October 20 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

Materials Needed
2 braids of 12 inch brown crepe hair (found at craft supply stores)
A pair of werewolf ears
A set of werewolf teeth (or any kind of fake fangs)
1 elastic dog nose
1 pair of old jeans
1 old shirt
1 pair of brown gloves
1 pair of brown socks
1 set of long fake black fingernails
A pair of old work boots
Brown and black face paint
Hot glue gun
Adhesive for skin
Fake blood
Hair gel
Large plastic bone (optional)

Costume Instructions
Shred the bottom of the jeans and tear a few random holes in them; glue some of the hair to the holes.  Shred the arms of the shirt and tear a some holes in it, then glue hair to those holes.  Hot glue the fingernails to the fingertips of the gloves, then glue some hair the back of the gloves.  Glue some more hair to the socks.  Try to cut some holes in the boots and glue some hair coming out of those holes.  You might have to stuff some socks in the boots so they will fit better.  Spike hair up with gel.  Glue some hair to the ears to look like sideburns.  Put black paint around your mouth and eyes, and some brown paint on your cheeks.  Glue a little hair to the dog nose.  Glue a little bit of hair to cheeks, chin, and on top of your eyebrows.  Carry the bone in your hand or in your back pocket.  Put a couple of drops of fake blood dripping off your chin.

Photo and directions originally found at Disney Family.

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October 19th: Arthur Machen

October 19 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

From the beginning of his literary career, Machen espoused a mystical belief that the humdrum ordinary world hid a more mysterious and strange world beyond. His gothic and decadent works of the 1890s concluded that the lifting of this veil could lead to madness, sex, or death, and usually a combination of all three. Machen’s later works became somewhat less obviously full of gothic trappings, but for him investigations into mysteries invariably resulted in life-changing transformation and sacrifice. Machen loved the medieval world view because he felt it combined deep spirituality alongside a rambunctious earthiness.

Stephen King is quoted as saying that Arthur Machen’s horror story The Great God Pan is “maybe the best in the English language.”  When it was published in 1894, it was criticized for it’s subject matter and sexual content.  Not surprisingly, it sold well, and has become the story for which he is most famous.

Arthur Llewelyn Jones was born March 3rd, 1863, in Caerleon, Monmouthshire, Wales.  His father, John Edward Jones, a vicar, took the maiden name of his wife, Machen, for inheritance purposes.  Arthur, later in life, dropped the Jones-Machen hyphenation when he began his writing career.  Machen’s family was relatively poor, which meant he could not attend university after his childhood education.  Having failed the entrance exams to medical school in London, Machen worked as a jounalist, a publishing clerk, and a tutor, all the while writing and living in his own poverty, though some inheritances from Scottish relatives helped somewhat financially.

In 1884 Machen published The Anatomy of Tobacco, his second published work following the 1881 poem ”Eleusinia”.  The Anatomy of Tobacco helped secure him work with George Redway, a publisher and bookseller.  There, he worked as a magazine editor, among other things including a French translator.  Machen married Amy Hogg in 1887.  Through Amy, a music teacher, he met the writer A. E. Waite, who was also a noted occultist, and would be a considerable influence on Machen.

Following the success of The Great God Pan, Machen next published The Three Impostors in 1895.  Thanks to Oscar Wilde and his then scandalous escapades, certain works of horror went unpublished, of which Machen was a victim.  Machen continued to write, though, and these works wouldn’t be available on the shelves until years later.  In addition to meager publishing, Machen’s wife died of cancer in 1899.  His recovery from the loss was due in part to his close friend Waite who brought him into the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (though he would only have a fleeting membership) and his change of career to actor.  Travelling with the theater troupe allowed him to meet Dorothie Purefoy Hudleston, who would become his second wife in 1903.

He returned to journalism full time in 1910 only as a means to provide for his family.  He had a return to publishing fame in 1914 and remained prominent with the public through the end of World War I thanks to “The Bowmen” and the ”Angels of Mons” legend.  It wasn’t until 1921 that there was a major rediscovery of Arthur Machen as a serious writer.  The Twenties also saw Machen finding an American audience.  This new success peaked around 1926.

Until his death in 1947, Machen produced very little new work of his own, but found employment in and out of the publishing world as editor, essayist, and manuscript reader.

For further reading please consult The Friends of Arthur Machen and Wikipedia.

Free works available at Project Gutenberg

John Jason

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October 18th: The Shadow Year

October 18 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

A young boy, his older brother Jim, and his younger sister Mary, become witnesses to strange happenings in their 1960s Long Island neighborhood.  There is a Peeping Tom roaming the streets, looking in the windows of the unsuspecting; a neighborhood kid goes missing; and a elderly man from down the street is eventually found dead.  Most strange of all, though, is the cardboard recreation of their neighborhood, what they call Botch Town, the brothers have in their basement:  whatever changes little Mary makes to it seem to happen in real life.

The siblings, though, pick up on the strange things occurring and decide to investigate most likely out of a desire to get away, even for a little while, from their home life.  Their father works two jobs and is most always absent, their mother is an alcoholic artist who can’t cook, and their grandparents, who show them the most love and affection, live in the converted garage.  The main protagonist, the middle child (who I can’t remember his name, or if it was ever given, sorry), isn’t the most popular kid in school, and is very often tormented by his older brother.  Jim can be a bully, but deep down looks after his brother and sister, and little Mary talks to imaginary people who help her plan the changes to Botch Town, and, though still in elementary school, has a smoking problem.

This sleuthing trio is peculiar, and experiencing the strange year of dangers and mysteries they face, from the close of Summer, through Halloween, a treacherous Winter, to the next end-of-school break, is a marvelous read.  The Shadow Year is one of those books, funny, delightful, nostalgic, and full of wonders, that begs to be read more than once.  If I were to read it a second time, and I will at some point, maybe then I’ll be able to ignore why it’s just a shade shy of being perfect.

Author Jeffrey Ford gets most everything right in The Shadow Year.  What isn’t right, and what doesn’t sit well, or fit into the puzzle well, is the ending.  The character of Ray, a teen who moved away from the neighborhood with his family, shows up late in the novel, and he just feels too convenient.  I think Ford could have written him into the story better.

The Shadow Year has a similar vibe as Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and just misses the mark of being that good.  For it all, though, I have included this book on the October Countdown because it stirs up certain feelings in the reader, at least it did me.  It may not be pure horror, but it’s a tale of weird fiction that has a certain haunting quality.  The passing of time, the old giving way to the new, growing up, looking back, facing the unknown.  There is a timelessness to The Shadow Year.

4.5 out of 5
John Jason

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October 17th: Spiders

October 17 , 2011 | | In: October Countdown 2011

For a lot of people nothing defines creepy crawly, or simply soil your pants terrifying, quite like spiders.  The arachnid.  Oh, yeah, they can look plenty scary, what with all those legs, those webs, that scurrying.  And some hop.  And, dear God, they’re fast.  Now, I dislike spiders as much as the rest of the world, but I’m not squeal-like-a-girl-run-away-and-hide scared of them.  But, just like I will a clown, I’ll kill’em.

For whatever reason, I guess their appearance and heebie-jeebie inducing nature (plus they’re so damn fleet footed), they became associated with witches and pretty much with evil in general sometime around the Middle Ages.  That bad reputation has persisted to this day, for the most part, and I’ll admit that Halloween decorations do look a little creepier with some spiders thrown into the mix.

Like many things, though, the spider could just be misconstrued and misunderstood.  Native Americans honored and admired the spider as a sacred symbol, both of creativity and as the weaver of fate.  Spiders are also thought to be good omens.  If you find a small spider spinning its web in your house, that’s considered to be good luck; if you let the spider crawl on your hand, that’s supposed to increase the luck.

That could explain why I don’t have a lot of good luck, though.

John Jason

For further information, please read Gerina Dunwich’s book A Witch’s Halloween.

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