Archive for Novel

Forbidden Tomes: ZOMBIE by JOYCE CAROL OATES

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2015 by smuckyproductions

There are countless thrillers and mysteries about serial killers, hard-boiled cops following grotesque trails of breadcrumbs to catch a psychopath. But rarely do we get a convincing glimpse into the mind of the killer him or herself. Perhaps because to enter such a mind means questioning your own. One book that accomplishes this all too well, and most disturbingly, is Joyce Carol Oates’s ZOMBIE.

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We all know about Jeffrey Dahmer – the pretty boy who had a habit of lobotomizing his lovers, killing them by accident, and keeping their body parts in jars of formaldehyde. Ever wonder what it’s like inside his head? Through the fictional character of Quentin P., Oates delves into this mind, unearthing thoughts and secrets in the form of a diary. The reader follows this diary through the most mundane of things – school visits, family dinners, days at home. Oh, and the occasional murder. He is simply engaging in a hobby. That hobby just happens to be lobotomizing young men in an attempt to make them his sex slaves.

This is a fascinating exercise in empathy. Oates does not linger on the nasty bits – she spends most of her time exploring Quentin’s everyday life, which is more or less similar to our own. That is what makes it so disturbing when he does commit crimes. He is a human being, after all; and Oates makes it clear that Quentin does not believe that he is doing anything wrong. It’s easy to write a character who is ‘evil,’ who relishes in causing others pain. But what if the ‘evil’ thinks it is good?

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Because of this, Oates’s killer becomes horrifically real, and almost sympathetic. He isn’t a coldblooded beast, causing pain for the joy of it. He is a human being, trying to find love and connection in a world that shuns him. Who hasn’t felt like an outsider before? By tapping into this emotional core, Oates makes Quentin a protagonist who we can root for – even though we don’t want to. It’s a dirty trick, sure, but it reveals so much about who we are as people.

Reading this book feels perverse, in the end, due to the extreme nature of the empathy that Quentin P. conjures in us. That is a testament to the power of Oates’s writing. She crafts horrific narratives but inverts the point of view – without warning, the reader is seeing through the eyes of someone who society deems monstrous, evil. While there is no glorification of murder – the book is as grim and depressing as they come – it does raise some immensely disturbing questions. How can someone be evil when they believe they are doing good? And how do we know that we aren’t hurting someone in our actions, too?

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Let that serve as a warning to readers: this book twists and ruins a person’s mind for a while after finishing. But the experience is, in the end, revelatory. That is the power of horror, and the power of empathy alike: it forces you to see something you do not want to face.

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Four Horror Novels for Halloween

Posted in Dark Musings, Halloween with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Happy Halloweek, everyone! To kick off prime celebration time, I’ve put together a short list of my favorite horror novels that capture the Samhain spirit. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but it scratches the surface.

For atmosphere, ghouls, and disturbing stories, these are four novels that can’t be missed.

THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES

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Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ouvre goes beyond tedious, forced high school reads. “Seven Gables” is a classic American Gothic, stocked full of Puritan themes, eerie imagery of witchcraft and brutal settlements, and a terrific drama about a cursed family. The titular house is full of spectres not seen, but felt, memories that won’t go away. By now, a plot like this has been overdone, but Hawthorne’s gorgeous descriptions make up for any familiarity. Autumnal and phantasmal, it’s a must-read.

PET SEMATARY

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Yeah, yeah, Stephen King is great and all. But not all of his novels are suited for Halloween reading. “Pet Sematary,” though, has it all – cursed graveyards, undead children, evil spirits, and a spooky suburban setting over which the presence of death hangs like fog. On top of that, it’s beyond terrifying. The first time I read it, I had to put it down while I waited for the chills to pass so I could keep going. With both entertaining and psychological horror, and one of the most disturbing ending lines of all time, this one is perfect for ghost season.

HELL HOUSE

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A terribly cheesy title – but this is one of the best horror novels of the 1970s. Penned by weird fiction master Richard Matheson, this novel is oppressively atmospheric, with doom and dread oozing from the first pages. The house is masterfully described and full of hidden horrors – in true 70s fashion, psychedelic and sensual, too. The terse prose creates such an aura of paranoia and horror that it’s actually difficult to read through, but the suspense is such that you can’t stop. For a quick, terrifying, and entertaining read, with all the Halloween trappings, there is no better book.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE

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If you talk about Hell House, you have to talk about Hill House. Shirley Jackson is the master of quiet, psychological horror. This book pairs her brilliant character analysis with an uncanny haunted house story, a combination that results in madness and terror. It subverts the cliches in the most disturbing way possible. And Hill House is one of the most formidable villains in all of dark literature – how can you fight a house? Finding a way to dissect loneliness and agoraphobia within the most ghostly of places, “Hill House” is a truly horrific read.

As Halloweek chugs along, keep your eyes peeled for more original Smucky stories and short films! And stay spooked – it’s the best time of the year.

Forbidden Tomes: ANCIENT IMAGES by Ramsey Campbell

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 14, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Ramsey Campbell is a tragically underrated horror author, despite being at one point christened Britain’s Stephen King. He has a plethora of bizarre and disturbing genre works, most published in the 70s and 80s, but they’re incredibly hard to find in bookstores. In honor of Campbell’s legacy, I’ll be reviewing the first book of his that I encountered, ANCIENT IMAGES.

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I am particularly attached to this book because of its affection for horror films. The plot follows film editor Sally Allen, ensnared in a dark mystery after her colleague gets ahold of an extremely rare Lugosi/Karloff print – and dies violently afterwards. As she tracks down the film’s origins, beyond a terrorized set and a Gothic horror story apparently based on true events, she uncovers a nightmarish legacy. The film is cursed, and whoever possesses it is destined to meet an awful fate. Sally must uncover the nature of this curse before it gets her, too.

Any horror film fan will get giddy at the mention of Karloff and Lugosi. It’s delightful to read about this fictional collaboration of theirs, which is suppressed for being ‘too frightening…’ and for other, darker reasons. The mystery behind the cursed film set and the effect it has on anyone who views it is ingeniously evoked. I’m a sucker for stories about cursed films/books akin to “The King in Yellow,” and this is a whopper of a curse, especially because of the enigma surrounding its consequences.

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Campbell is cruelly good at withholding information and keeping the reader wondering – that, I think, is his strength. His prose is reserved, and the revelations are all the more shocking for their mundane appearances. He knows how to subtly hint at the horrors to come without revealing too little. Sally’s encounters with the ancient force are subdued, often so much so that she doesn’t realize what happened. That is what frightened me the most about the book – the not knowing. The quick flashes and quiet hints are monstrously chilling.

Of course, when the mystery is so enticing, the unmasking is bound to disappoint a bit. Campbell doesn’t quite match his buildup with his climax. In spite of this, the ending is still well done, and honors everything that came before. Horror novels always have a hard time ending themselves – but “Ancient Images” does well enough.

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This is the type of book that seems to belong exclusively to the 80s – the supernatural mystery tale of a hip young person hunting through a trail of unexplained deaths. I miss this vintage form of plot, and am always thrilled to find a relic like this that adheres so successfully to it. Campbell is an undeniable master of the genre, quietly placing his horrors around the protagonist and unleashing them only when the tension has begun to suffocate the reader.

“Ancient Images,” while not his most famous book, is worth a read for any fan of this ‘classic’ brand of horror. Pick it up on a blustery autumn evening, when the shadows begin to look like something else, something that watches. It is sure to haunt you.

Forbidden Tomes: THE WATCHER by CHARLES MACLEAN

Posted in Forbidden Tomes with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 10, 2015 by smuckyproductions

I came across this tome completely by accident, while working in development at a production company. After completing it, I was baffled that it was not more well-known, even in the more obscure horror circles. For that reason, today I’ll discuss Charles Maclean’s THE WATCHER.

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What draws me to this book is its undeniable 70s/80s atmosphere, and its classical weird-fiction plot. Most of the novel is narrated by Martin Gregory, a successful businessman and devoted husband who gives his wife a special present on her birthday… something utterly horrific and damning. This incident, which he does not recall, begins a descent into an otherworldly fabric of dreams and past lives as Gregory struggles to discover what drove him to the unforgivable act. He begins to suspect that his life is caught up in something cosmic and eternal – perhaps not one life at all. Or is he really just insane?

It’s impossible to say more about the book without ruining the surprises it contains. There are so many brilliant twists and massive detours that it almost feels like the book is creating itself between the covers as you read. Gregory is the pinnacle unreliable narrator, constantly being questioned and even questioning himself – the reader is unable to trust him, but also unable to stop listening. As his story deepens and explodes into something Lovecraftian, it’s impossible to turn away. Though it is quite clear that it all may be a lie.

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Maclean crafts a story here that echoes many classics – “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” by Lovecraft and “Xeethra” by Clark Ashton Smith are clear influences – but also subverts them with its psychological slant. The reader is never sure who to believe, and becomes less so as the book hurtles on toward a wild ending. That is a nearly impossible feat to accomplish, but Maclean does so beautifully, rising to the level even of Henry James’s “Turn of the Screw” in the way he tricks his readers.

Because of this, I think “The Watcher” will appeal to a range of horror fans – those who like their frights grounded in reality, and those who prefer to be transported to otherworldly environs. Both aspects of the novel are handled with intensity and intelligence. It’s one of the most excitingly mysterious horror stories I’ve read in a while, especially because its answers are not all divulged. Authors are so often afraid of being misunderstood that they give away too much. Maclean is the opposite.

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Its only significant flaw is its obscurity – I never would have found it if it hadn’t been for that production company. If you come across a copy, don’t hesitate – it’s worth a read no matter what. Just hold onto your sanity while you do. And maybe just get your wife a gift card for her birthday.

Update – Where Has Smucky Been?

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2015 by smuckyproductions

Hello horror fans! It’s been an age since I made a fresh post. Thought it was about time that I crawled out of the grave and discussed the news: where has Smucky been?

The past two years have been insanely productive and busy, creating new content with which to launch Smucky Productions. In the past months, I have made two films – one feature, one short – both of which have occupied nearly all of my time (in addition to school and work, of course). Now that these films have been completed, I think it’s about time I released more information.

ONE FOR THE ROAD Official Poster

ONE FOR THE ROAD is the first film to be finished. Based on the Stephen King story of the same name, the film takes place in ‘Salem’s Lot after the events of the novel. Two men must venture into the abandoned town to help a stranger find his family… but they soon learn that the nightmarish rumors about the Lot were true.
I made this as a part of NYU, my junior thesis, and using Stephen King’s generous Dollar Baby program that grants limited rights to student filmmaker. It was an insane process – we shot completely at night, mostly in the deep frigid wilderness of the Poconos. All that was worth it just to be able to adapt one of my favorite stories from the King himself. I couldn’t be more excited about that.

Chaos Theory Official Poster

Even more onerous was CHAOS THEORY. This is a feature film, something I was not supposed to make until I get actual financing and blah, blah, blah. I went ahead and did it anyway.
Inspired by Lynch and Lovecraft, it’s a psychological horror about a young woman who is visited by horrific visions in the wake of her best friend’s suicide… and begins to wonder what really caused his death.
This is a passion project for me, as it explores my generation’s responses to the violence and grief that faces us on the news and in life every day. I wrote the first screenplay draft in 2012 before going to NYU. Four drafts and two years later, I began a single-handed pre-pro process and scraped together a 12-day shoot in August 2014. A year later, post has been completed and submissions have been made.
I can say with confidence that this was the most challenging, painful and rewarding thing I’ve ever done. We had very few resources and no time to make this, but we pulled it off, and based on test screening reactions, we did it just right. People discourage filmmakers from creating things guerilla-style, but with a simple enough story and enough dedication, I say it’s fully worth the effort. Why wait until you get your angel investor? I’ll never do it this way again (no one would let me), but to do it once and be proud of the result is enough.

Thus, Smucky has been furiously working away at some new content to unleash on the world this October, when the first festival submissions should be coming out. Stay tuned for more information on that whole business.

It’s been a mad couple of months, but I’m thrilled at what has come out of it. Hopefully you horror fans will be able to see the fruit of this effort soon.

From one ghoul to another, I sign off. Look for more consistent posts, now that I’m not buried beneath this ‘creative’ business.

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone: Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on July 9, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Author: Stefan Kiesbye
Published in 2011
Rating: 7/10

I stumbled across this book totally by chance, but the description – and, of course, the infamous cover – ensured that I wouldn’t forget it. (For those who don’t know, the cover is printed with a sneaky message only revealed under the right angle of light. Go to Barnes & Noble to see what it says.) A few months later, I was finally able to read it.

The jacket compares this short novel, made up of disparate stories connected by narrators and the location, to Shirley Jackson and The Twilight Zone. It tracks the coming-of-age experiences of a group of children who live in Hemmersmoor, a sinister backwoods village untouched by time or modern logic. The village is full of superstition and dark secrets, from the eerie manor on the outskirts to the haunted mill. As the children navigate this perverted, insular world, they accumulate secrets of their own – some of which are too horrible to say.

The premise of the novel, and the atmosphere it manages to construct around the village, are terrific. The world is disturbing and ugly, but it’s impossible to leave it until its secrets are unveiled. Its stories and style borrow heavily from Jackson in their detached point of view, describing awful events without understanding that they are awful. Some of the tales are extremely disturbing – one involving a circus particularly frightened me – but as the novel goes on, they become more and more normal. There is no real sense of climax, and the pieces add up to a hollow whole. This is, in a way, in keeping with the themes of adulthood – the world seems a little less special and exciting with each year you age – but it is a betrayal of the promise to the reader, which is to build to an ending.

That being said, the moodiness and evocation of the setting are worthwhile in their own right. It’s a disturbing joy to spend time in Hemmersmoor, even if its secrets don’t live up to the comparison of Shirley Jackson. It’s a fun read for an autumn evening, when everything is just a little bit spookier than usual.

Interview with Ben Larned about “Fool’s Gold”

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Blood Moon Rising Magazine’s editor D.W. Jones recently interviewed Ben Larned, and reviewed his novel, “Fool’s Gold.” 

Click here to see the interview, and here for the review.

Sweet nightmares, and happy reading!