Archive for book review

Forbidden Tomes (Halloween edition): GHOST STORIES of M.R. JAMES

Posted in Forbidden Tomes, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 13, 2015 by smuckyproductions

One of the most ancient, and perhaps overdone, horror subgenres is the ghost story. No matter how oversaturated the market becomes, we always look for truly spine-tingling and chilling tales of the supernatural. For the best offerings of this tradition, I argue that it’s best to go back to the roots – those creepy Victorians, and most wonderful of all are the GHOST STORIES OF M.R. JAMES.


With his first two collections in particular, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and More Ghost Stories, James explores what happens when innocent explorers stumble on something from the other side. Usually the consequences are a fainting spell and a good shock, but sometimes the ghosts are more dangerous. Set in crumbling cathedrals, dreary manor homes and drafty seaside inns, his stories are full of the best sort of atmosphere. Their protagonists are hardly unique or memorable, but what happens to them in these spooky locales is always hard to forget, especially late at night.


James is one of those authors who, if you haven’t actually read a story of his, you’ve seen them referenced or redone. If he’s not the inventor, he’s the popularizer of the white-sheeted, object-cursing, revenge-seeking spirit in popular culture. His stories are simple and often tongue-in-cheek, but there’s something about their subtlety and lack of grotesque flair that makes them far too easy to believe. James is blunt about his supernatural occurrences, which makes them all the more frightening.

MR James

By today’s standards his images are basic and silly – but he handles them in a way that makes the horror visceral and undeniable. It’s worth noting as well that James introduced some of our standard ghost tropes, too – evil dolls, man-hungry spiders, and child demons, amongst others. His almost sardonic treatment of these images is strikingly modern. He has a great sense of sadistic humour, torturing his audience with gossipy grotesqueries and blurted horrors. One can imagine him watching the reader from afar, smirking in delight as the goosebumps rise.


His best stories – such as “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad” and “A Warning to the Curious” – have sustained amazingly, still frightening after all these decades. Their wind-swept climes and shadowy twists are best navigated in the dark of an October night – they were traditionally read by James in pitch-black rooms as an after-dinner form of entertainment. And somehow, across the crawl of time, his autumnal voice still echoes.


Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Though he’s known for more whimsical classics like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “The Grass Harp,” or the harrowing true crime account “In Cold Blood,” there is more to Truman Capote than one might at first recognize. He is undoubtedly masterful with sentimental, nostalgic tales and beautiful insights into memory – but lesser discussed are his forays into terror and the Gothic. Today I want to shed some light on the neglected Horror Stories of Truman Capote.


From a literary perspective, his Collected Stories are a must-read, and all the more exciting for horror fans due to the surprise moments of terror hidden within. In these moments, Capote equals Shirley Jackson in his ability to conjure tiny moments of suspense with the utmost subtlety, and always favoring an ambiguous end. They speak to the darkness of his own visions, something that would come into full effect with “In Cold Blood” (which, in its own way, is utterly horrifying).


My personal favorites are “Miriam” and “Master Misery.” The former finds an amiable widow befriending a strange child at the movie theater. She soon regrets it as the child begins to haunt her home, ringing at late hours and demanding to be given a home. It’s a fabulous entry in the ‘evil child’ subgenre, and playing on something innate in most people – who can refuse a child, no matter what it begins to ask of you?


“Master Misery” is less direct in its horror and its story, but its depiction of psychological breakdown is very effective. It follows a woman who, strapped for cash, begins to sell her dreams to a mysterious but enticingly wealthy old man. But what happens when she starts to run out of dreams? This tale is surreal and ambiguous, weaving a bizarre New York City in which a person’s life is slowly devoured. In spite of its ambiguity, I found it deeply disturbing, mostly because it resonated a truth I hadn’t yet named.

The collection features less horrific stories that still contain hints of the Gothic – “A Tree of Night,” in which a young woman is hounded into insanity by grotesque drunkards on an overnight train; and “Children on their Birthdays,” the retrospective tale of a girl who holds uncanny sway over the children in her town. All of these darker offerings speak to a literary tradition of subtle horror that I often think has been forgotten by modern writers. Capote roots his terror in the unraveling of an already fragile mind, pushed over the edge by an unnatural experience that is usually quite small. The aura of hopelessness that hovers over his endings makes them all the more devastating.


While certainly not a genre writer, Truman Capote shows how capable he is at creating a dreadful and psychological atmosphere. The above stories (and the others, in spite of their lack of fear) are so often forgotten in the horror canon. I recommend them to anyone who likes their dread to creep up slowly, quietly, and internally, so that it is impossible to run away.

The Other: Book Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Author: Thomas Tryon
Published in 1971

Since I don’t have a recent book to review for today, I thought I’d discuss a classic. “The Other,” written by an actor-turned-author, is a fantastically written supernatural thriller with great twists and wonderful atmosphere.

Twins Niles and Holland Perry live on a sprawling farm in 1930’s Connecticut. Their grandmother has taught them to transport themselves into other’s minds, in order to imagine what can be seen through their eyes. One hot summer, strange things begin to happen surrounding them: family members die violently, objects vanish, and sanity dissolves as the twins’ secrets drive the Perry family to ruin.

What really makes the novel fascinating is the evocation of place. Tryon brings the Perry farm to life fully, through beautiful prose and  extreme detail. It’s easy to be lost in the world the novel creates – it’s romantic, peaceful, and at times eerie beyond belief. The characters are given the same care, each one fully fleshed and visualized. “The Other” pulled me into its universe, and I loved every moment I spent there. This intense illustration makes it all the more terrifying, then, when Tryon introduces the horror behind the charming veneer. And there is plenty of horror that shows its head by the end.

The story takes turn after turn into ultimate darkness. Most of the novel is very quietly creepy, but the morbidity of some moments shocked me. The twists are sprinkled throughout, coming at the most unexpected moments. Some may see them coming from a mile away, but I always found myself taken by surprise. As a thriller, “The Other” is marvelous.

I’m surprised to find that “The Other” isn’t mentioned more when discussing horror classics. It’s a fantastic novel, with great characters and plot turns. Though it’s short, it is completely involving and at times, even brilliant. I recommend it, and put it high on my list of favorite horror stories.

Greetings from Smucky’s Grave.

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , on March 23, 2013 by smuckyproductions

Here you’ll find films, reviews, and works of literature all produced by Smucky Productions. Send on to any other horror fans who might be interested. And remember to leave the lights on.