Monday, April 29, 2013


I don't believe in ghosts.  There, it's out.  I'd like to.  Most of my favorite horror novels and movies are about ghosts.  I've written stories about ghosts and I've tried to make them scary and entertaining.  But in terms of personal belief, yeah, I can't buy into it.  I admit that sometimes freaky shit happens and the explanation is elusive.  You know someone who claims their dog stares into an empty corner of the house and barks and whines.  It's weird and it can creep you out and it's difficult to explain.  Maybe their house is haunted.  Or maybe their dog is just stupid.  I don't know. 
There are any number of "reality" shows that feature people on the hunt for ghosts.  I admit I've watched a few episodes myself.  It's either a psychic who wandewrs around the house and then "senses" something in the atic or the basement; or it's guys with infrared cameras wandering around an abandoned sanatarium or prison and they hear weird noises and down the corridor a shadow passes in front of the camera.  Then at the end of the show it's always the same thing.  "Well, Mr. Jones, we found some interesting stuff here.  You might have a ghost but we can't be sure."  Gee, thanks for the help. 
Here's the thing about these reality shows and why I don't believe anything they say.  If they caught real footage of a ghost it would be all over the news.  The news networks would run the clips ad nauseum and the super religious would flock to the spot and hold prayer vigils.  You'd have psychics all over the place vying to be interviewed by CNN.  And of course you'd have the opportunists vowing to exorcize the ghost.  For a fee, naturally.  And all this would happen six months before the episode aired.  Since that breaking news never breaks why would anyone waste their time watching the show itself?  If they had actually found concrete evidence of a ghost you'd know about it already.
A quick digression:  This is precisely the same reason I never bother with shows about the search for bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster or werewolves or whatever else they're searching for that week.  If someone had footage of bigfoot we'd know about it instantly.  Hence there's no reason whatsoever to watch these shows.  They have failed at their stated goal and you know that before you even tune in to the thing. 
All this is not to say that ghost stories aren't cool.  They are.  Or they can be if handled properly.  Dorothy Macardle's 1942 novel Uneasy Freehold is excellent.  It's the basis for the 1944 movie The Uninvited starring Ray Milland.  The movie is great, too. 
Peter Straub wrote the too-obvious-to-be-a-title novel Ghost Story in 1979.  Two years later it was made into a movie with John Houseman, Doughlas Fairbanks, Jr. and Fred Astaire(!).  Both the novel and the movie are excellent. 
And of course we have the mother of all ghost stories, Henry James's masterpiece The Turn of the Screw.  Numerous adaptations have made it to the screen, almost all titled The Innocents.  The best is the one with Deborah Kerr from 1961. 
The Overlook Hotel is crawling with ghosts in Stephen King's The Shining.  Both the novel and the movie are fantastic.  The TV miniseries from a few years ago is okay but simply not in the same class as either the Kubrick film or the source material.
There are more.  The Sixth Sense (1999) is brilliant with a twist ending worthy of Rod Serling.  And speaking of Serling there were numerous episides of The Twilight Zone and a few from Night Gallery that dealt with ghosts.  I'm not gonna list them all here but suffice to say Serling knew how to spin a good ghost yarn. 
My novel The Last Battleship featured (SPOILER ALERT!) a kind of hybrid ghost/zombie menace in the form of the crew of the USS Louisiana.  My third novel, Dark Annie (release date to-be-determined but should be sometime in October 2013) is a straight-up ghost story.  Why?  Because I really do love a good ghost story.  With all due respect to zombies my favorite type of story in horror fiction is the ghost story.  I think it's because ghost stories are just so cool.  I just wish I could believe in ghosts.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Creating a Horror Fan

The first time I can remember being attracted to a horror story was my mother reading me the Dr. Seuss book The Pale Green Pants.  Yeah, that's right, Dr. Seuss.  I was probably all of three years-old.  The story freaked me out because here was this pair of pants with nobody inside them just running around the woods at night.  See for yourself: 
You're walking through the woods at night and come across this. 
Wouldn't you be scared?

As with all Dr. Seuss stories, this one had a positive lesson to teach so it ended up not being so scary in the end. That made little difference to me as I asked my mother to read that story to me over and over.  By the twentieth time she was probably reciting it from memory.  I loved that story and still do.  I'm pretty sure it got me started on the path to becoming a fan of all things horror.
The next major horror event occured when I watched the television movie Duel in 1971.  I know, I know, in my very first blog I said it wasn't exactly a horror movie.  Screw that!  It scared me and fascinated me and I still watch it whenever it's on TV.  It might have been around the same time I became obsessed with those pale green pants.  According to it aired as ABC's movie of the week on November 13, 1971, which would have been about five weeks before my fourth birthday.  I have only a vague memory of watching it then but my parents have told me I sat cross-legged in front of the TV and didn't move or speak the whole time it was on.    It stayed with me for my whole life.  When I saw it on DVD I scooped it up immediately.  I'll pop it into the BluRay player every now and then and sit back and enjoy poor Dennis Weaver's struggle against a big ass truck and it's never-seen-clearly driver. 

Bad, bad truck!

  What is this asshole's problem?
I was too young at the time to understand the not-overly-subtle theme of man vs. machine.  Weaver's character is named David Mann.  And as I mentioned above, we never get a good shot of the truckdriver; the most we ever see of him is his arm out the cab's window as he waves Dennis Weaver ahead of him.  So for all intents and purposes the truck is driverless and this point is hammered home by its single-minded pursuit of an innocent motorist across miles and miles of desert.
This movie, maybe more than any other movie or novel, is most likely the reason I became a true horror fan.  But there is one more story to talk about and I think this is the one that cemented me in the horror genre. 
There was a horror anthology series called Circle of Fear.  Again, according to, the episode in question first aired on January 12, 1973, a few weeks after my fifth birthday.  (Seriously, what were my parents thinking letting me watch this shit???)  The title of the episode is "Dark Vengeance" and it stars Martin Sheen and Kim Darby.  It's about a cursed toy horse that terrorizes the young couple who find it.  The synopsis I read online doesn't say much and I can't remember many details.  Mostly what I remember is Kim Darby (really, I don't even remember her being in it; mostly I just remember her character as a generic young-wife type) watching her husband pull out of the driveway with the horse safely locked in the trunk.  And she turns around and the goddamned thing is in the room with her and it starts to advance slowly across the floor toward her.  This terrified me.  Take a look:
Personally, I'm more frightened by that nightie.


  Hey lady, got a light?

I don't remember the toy horse being that big but since I last saw this forty years ago I think I can be forgiven for a false memory or two.  What I do remember, quite clearly, was being scared out of my wits by this episode.  I have no idea if I saw more of the series or if this was a one-off for me.  Either way, it made quite an impression.
There was no Goosebumps series or anything of the kind back then so my horror intake was limited to shows like Creature Feature and Chillers and things of that nature.  I watched Dracula and Frankenstein and The Mummy and movies like that.  I bought and read comic books like Werewolf By Night and Ghost Rider .  Basically anything with a supernatural element to it was fine with me.  When I discovered Stephen King and Dean Koontz and Agatha Christie it was like my own personal mardi gras.  I couldn't read their novels fast enough.  I still can't. 
My two published novels and the third (on its way!) are all squarely in the horror genre.  There's an obvious reason for that.  It's the genre I enjoy most when reading/watching and it's one with which I identify quite easily.  I hope I can excite someone with my writing the way I was excited by reading my first Christie novel or watching Duel.  At the momemt I have no intention of leaving the genre and trying to "stretch my muscles" in another direction.  Horror is what excites me and interests me. 
Blame Dr. Seuss.