Article: WHY I CELEBRATE HALLOWEEN (or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Trick Or Treats)

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charlie brown halloweenIt occurs to me that, for a blog entitled “Confessions Of A Christian Freak”, I haven’t been posting very many confessions since I started this up a couple of months ago.  Yeah, I’ve been busy porting over all of the stuff I’ve done on the previous blogs (barely scratching the surface on that, trust me), but that’s not much of an excuse, now is it?  So let me go ahead and remedy this, and what better time to do so than today: HALLOWEEN!

Yes, I am a Christian who absolutely loves Halloween.  You might even say that it’s my favorite holiday of the year.  Matter of fact, I normally maintain something of an online countdown leading up to the 31st of October, recounting my favorite Halloween-related topics and nostalgic whatnot.  This year, however, I’ve been kind of sidetracked, what with becoming engaged and planning a marriage and all, so I hope you’ll understand why it’s been rather anaemic with my usual holiday tradition.

So, why do I, as one who professes faith in the Deity many normally associate with the likes of Christmas and Easter, consider Halloween – a holiday normally associated with, um, that other guy – the best holiday of the year?  Well, I could give you a multiple-point explanation, but in the name of brevity I won’t (besides, it’s already been brilliantly postulated in this article right here); instead, I’ll give you the one big reason why I get excited whenever I see the stores stocking up on the Halloween items:

Halloween is the perfect expression of my faith in Jesus Christ.

Go ahead and re-read that if you need to.  You read it right.  I believe that Halloween – and by extension, the Gothic aesthetic overall – is the perfect vehicle for my symbolic expression of my faith.

Think about it.  The very word “Halloween” is a contraction of “All Hallow’s Eve”, the night before the recognized holiday All Saints Day.  All Saints Day celebrates Jesus’ final work on the cross, breaking the curse of sin and death once and for all.  All Hallow’s Eve, by extension, represents Satan’s greatest failure, and we dress up primarily to mock his toothless boasts to the contrary.

Halloween is not a time for Christians to cower in the corner, fearing a so-called “night of evil”; no, Christians should consider Halloween a celebration of life that came from death, with all the trappings symbolic of the transformative power Jesus’ resurrection has on all of His creation.

In short, I embrace Halloween BECAUSE I’m a Christian, and not in spite of being one.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I gots me some movies to be watching.  Cheers.


Book Review: TITUS CROW Vol. 1 (Brian Lumley)

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titus crow 1

Brian Lumley

Years before Brian Lumley created his iconic Necroscope series, he previously created a supernatural investigator named Titus Crow.  Well, maybe “supernatural” is the wrong word to use, as the kind of weirdness Titus Crow investigated is based firmly in the Cthulhu mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft decades before.  And since Brian Lumley has proven himself more than capable of playing in Lovecraft’s nightmarish playground, making something of a Sherlock Holmes of the Cthulhu mythos was something of a no-brainer, really.  I don”t know why, it just seems like one.

And really, Sherlock Holmes meets Lovecraft is a rather apt description, as the titular character in these two novellas is just as smart, eccentric, prone to falling into life-threatening circumstances, and has a Watson sidekick of his own.  I’m beginning to wonder if the Conan-Doyle estate hadn’t tried to sue him in the past.  I might have to scour my copy of the Brian Lumley Companion to find out anything.  But, back to the matter at hand…

Titus Crow, Volume One is an omnibus reprinting of the first two Titus Crow novellas – The Burrowers Beneath, first published in 1974, and The Transition Of Titus Crow, first published in 1975.  In the first tale, we first meet the titular character by way of letters between him and other correspondents, and through writings of his companion Henri-Laurent de Marigny, and his adventure trying to defeat a giant worm that an off-shore drilling team accidentally stumble upon and awaken.  The second tale involves Titus Crow’s adventures traveling in the Clock of Dreams, a device that can travel space and time.  Kind of like a coffin-shaped TARDIS, only instead of being bigger on the inside, it’s really more of a black void with buttons.

Between the two, I do like “The Transition Of Titus Crow” a bit more, but both are fantastic tales that kept my rapt attention throughout.  What I like about Lumely’s take on the whole Cthulhu is that the characters who encounter these nightmarish entities try to fight back, despite having the odds stacked against them.  Instead of fainting at the mere sight of these entities, they go down fighting.  That’s one of my biggest hang-ups with Lovecraft’s descriptions: we humans are all wusses and will submit at the mere belch from the Ancient Ones.  In the Titus Crow stories, at least we give it the ol’ college try, there.

Overall, being one of my favorite authors and all, I of course enjoyed the heck out of Titus Crow, Volume 1.  I hope to continue collecting these Titus Crow stories, though it’s looking more and more evident that I’ll have to go through internet means to do so.  Either way, Titus Crow volume 1: Recommended.

Book Review: The LOST CHILDREN (Brett Rutherford)

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the lost children

Brett Rutherford
Zebra Books

Once in a while, one of those “direct-to-paperback” horror books that seemed to clog up book bins in the 80s catch me off guard with an actual good story. Nothing to crow about, mind you…but a story that’s a bit different from the standard follow-the-numbers pap of horror lit. Let me try to describe The Lost Children without confusing you too much…

First off, the cover itself is totally misleading- a blindfolded skeleton cradling a decapitated doll in a ratty blanket. Even after reading this thing, I have no clue as to the significance of the cover artwork. Perhaps the publishers were hard-pressed to come up with a suitable image from the story itself, and thought “Screw it”, and went with a generic idea for the express purpose of catching the eye of the consumer. You know, like those TV commercials that seem to be nothing but couples making out, until you realize at the end that the spot was advertising paint thinner…

Anyway, once you got the story itself, it starts off as kind of a techno-horror: Four children with above-average intelligence in a small town (it’s always a small town, isn’t it?)- two from well-off families, and two from, let’s say, the wrong side of the tracks- are chosen to receive computers from a mysterious charity group, with the assumed intent of helping them with their school work. Once the reader stops snickering from the obviously dated techno-decrypt of the computers (there’s more sophisticated technology in most phones nowadays, but I digress), we learn that, obviously, the computers have a collective sinister motive. In a manor that’s a high-tech method of flashing something shiny in front of the kids, the computers hypnotize the children to do…bad things in their sleep. Turning them against their parents, killing, blowing stuff up…you know, the usual stuff evil computers get you to do. Then all four kids are abducted by mysterious men dressed in beekeeper outfits driving an unmarked van, and taken to a remote farm.

Here’s where The Lost Children shifts from being techno-horror to a Sci-Fi Channel’s Movie Of The Week. Seems there’s an ancient alien creature dwelling inside its massive craft underneath the barn of said farm. It’s recruited some humans to lure children there via the computers (isn’t there an easier way…like candy?), for worker drones, and in the case of some of the girls, to mate with (the method of which is described in one part rather graphically) to create blue-skinned hybrids with a severe aversion to bugs. Anyway, without getting too long-winded: One of the kids can’t be brainwashed because he’s color-blind; a rescue pose’ consisting of Color Blind Boy’s father, the children’s science teacher, a computer-savvy social deviant, the old preacher who gave the kids the computers to begin with (don’t ask), and a bunch of gun-toting Viet Nam vets ride in to rescue the kids; the children launch a rebellion of their own, lead by Color Blind Boy; two nuns escape from an insane asylum; a local yokel gets his brains sucked out; and the big-bad Alien turns out to just “hang around” all the time and look nasty. Oh, and a sadistic head doctor of the nearby insane asylum has a two-sided conversation with his penis. Gads, I wish I made that last one up…

Anyway, the big bad Alien defeated, the Computer Savvy Social Deviant and Color Blind Boy decide to rip off the ending of Stephen King’s Tommyknockers and fly off into the sunset- literally- and leave the gaggle of survivors and FBI agents to end the book with a song-and-dance number. Okay, I actually did make that last one up, but after everything else, I wouldn’t have been surprised…

Actually, The Lost Children is more linear than you think, and I actually enjoyed the tale immensely, as it bucked the usual horror conventions and did its own thing. Too bad not every book is like this…

Book Review: HAGGOPIAN And Other Stories (Brian Lumley)

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Brian Lumley

Prior to the best-selling Necroscope series, Brian Lumley built his repuation by writing stories set against H. P. Lovecraft’s cosmic Cthulhu Mythos backdrop. These dark and frightening tales appeared worldwide in some of the very best of Brian Lumley’s works.  Collected together, it confirms his place as a master of horror fiction.

Any good horror fan knows that H. P. Lovecraft’s influence is far-reaching.  In literature, especially, he has had a great impact on what we consider modern horror.  I’ve come to understand that many of the writers and authors who have inspired me in my own literary Danse Macabre – Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and, of course, Brian Lumley – have been inspired in one way or another by the late master.

Lumley may be better known as the author of the Necroscope series here in the States, but back since the 1960s he was a prolific writer of the Lovecraft-inspired Cthulhu Mythos.  Mostly of short stories and novella-length material, Lumley’s style seemed to breathe some new life into the ancient stories.

Haggopian And Other Stories is Lumely’s second Cthulhu Mythos collection released recently in the States, and my first that I bought of his collection. Mainly because the book shop didn’t have the first collection.

The stories contained are much shorter than the ones collected in the first volume, and collect Lumley’s original Mythos tale first published in 1967, and the latest one written in 2003.  The stories involve fantastic, otherworldly beasts and creatures, all beings that inspire fear and awe, culled from the Mythos and breathed to life by Lumley’s storytelling.  This is actually the first time I experienced the paranormal investigator known as Titus Crow, as there are a few Titus Crow-based short stories collected here, as well as many of the classic Lovecraft-created characters, from the Deep Ones to the Elder Gods.  Included with each story is an introduction by Lumley himself, expounding on the history of the story, what inspired it, things like that.  Overall, though, Haggopian And Other Stories was a satisfying collection, and one that I’m glad I got ahold of.  Recommended for anyone who loves the Mythos, or the writings of Brian Lumley.

Book Review: GHOST STORY (Peter Straub)

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Peter Straub
McCann & Geoghegan

“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”
“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me…the most dreadful thing…”

In a seedy motel in Florida, a young man holds captive a little girl in a soiled pink dress. He is anxious, tormented, introspective. She is calm, passive, strangely detached. She says her name is Angie Maule. In the small upstate town of Milburn, New York, four old friends meet to honor the traditions of the Chowder Society. They drink good whiskey and trade ghost stories. As chilling as these tales are, and as strangely prophetic, they pale before the horrific nightmares that began a year ago when one of their members attended a party for a visiting actress — and there died of a heart attack. Or was it fright? She says her name is Ann-Veronica Moore. In California, a talented young novelist teaching creative writing at Berkeley finds himself hopelessly obsessed with one of his students. She is exquisitely lovely, infernally elusive. She says her name is Alma Mobley. What is the connection between these places, these people, these agonizing events?

This being only the second novel of Peter Straub’s that I’ve read so far (not counting the two he co-authored with Stephen King), already he is established in my mind as a horror writer’s horror writer. Ghost Story reverberates with a depth and dark atmosphere that brings to mind the classic ghost stories and dark tales of Hawthorne and Poe and Henry James — all of which are referenced frequently throughout the novel.

Straub writes in a way that allows the story to breathe freely; the pacing is deliberately slow and moderate, allowing the tension to build as the story unravels and all the pieces fall into place. Set in a small New England town in late fall and winter adds to the atmosphere that pulls off the creepy vibe within the story; the dialogue between the characters engaging and, for lack of a better word, real. It’s been a while since I’ve read a good, thick yarn that filled me with the constant creeps. Ghost Story is just that…a frightening tale that will keep you up at night and jump at the wind howling outside your window. Recommended…

Book Review: FEAR AND TREMBLING (Robert Bloch)

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fear and trembling

Robert Bloch

If you’re not familiar with the name Robert Bloch, then you should at least be familiar with the title of a book he wrote: Psycho.  You know, the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie.  And if you’re not familiar with that…well, you disgust me.  Begone.  Either rectify this glaring and massive flaw in your character, or crawl back into your Twilight-infested existence.

Heh, I said “rectify.”

Anyway, Robert Bloch, besides being the author of the Psycho novel, was also a very prolific writer of hundreds of short stories, novels and screenplays, mostly in the horror, sci-fi and crime genres.  Add to this the fact that he was a protege’ of none other than H. P. Lovecraft, and also had a writing style that had a delicious dark humor streak, and you can understand why I have such a soft spot for the late writer.

Fear And Trembling was a collection of short stories that book publisher Tor produced during the Horror Literature boom of the 1980s, and features stories that span decades, from the 1930s through to a story written specifically for this collection.  Bloch himself has stated that he doesn’t think much of his earlier work, as he felt it they were written by a young man trying to emulate his hero, Lovecraft.  And you can tell by the writing styles, just which stories were early in his career, and which ones were from a more developed and matured style.  His sense of humor is very evident, while still retaining that same sense of the scary that makes this some very classic storytelling. I came across this mass market collection at a used book store in Kansas, and I must say that I’m very glad I got ahold of it.  For some reason, these Bloch collections seem to be a hard thing to find, but whenever I find one I’m never disappointed.  Fear And Trembling is worth the find.

Book Review: DEAD FAMOUS (Gordon Kerr)

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dead famous

Gordon Kerr
Oneworld Publications

Death is the great leveller and despite wealth, notoriety, or the best contacts on the planet, even the rich and famous have to meet their maker in the end.  When they do, there’s nearly always a story.  Bursting with conspiracy theories, juicy gossip, and scandals, Dead Famous: The Final Hours Of The Notable And Notorious unearths the tales of sixty extraordinary individuals whose exits rival their lives for sheer drama. From Dylan Thomas and his “eighteen straight whiskies” to Mary Queen of Scots’ blood-red dress and wig, Gordon Kerr provides a delightfully written and unforgettably curious caper through our favourite celebrities’ best last moments.

Nifty little British publication that I ran into during and outing with a friend at the Half Price Books in my area.  Death being one of my interests (naturally), these little tidbits involving several celebrities and notibles was a rather interesting read.  Nothing too profound or shocking; matter of fact, there were times where I was wondering exactly where the editor got the information from.  Regardless, though, recreating the final moments, the death and burial, and some postmortem points of interest makes this one of the better bathroom reading tomes I have come across recently.

Book Review: The RETURN (Bentley Little)

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the return

Bentley Little

His first memory was of Delaware Punch.

Springerville is famous for the legend of the Mogollon Monster.  Of course nobody really believes it.  It’s just a good campfire story, something to attract gullible tourists…until an excavation team unearths the figurine of a screaming woman, the jawbone of a deformed animal, and a child’s toy.  How odd that they were buried together.  Odd, too, is the foul odor lingering in the air, the strange noises at night, and the man’s face found hanging from a tree.  Now the locals are locking their doors.  Because after sundown, campfire stories can seem very, very real.

I’ve only read two of Bentley Little’s novels – this one, and The Town – but already the writer has caused me to harbor some apprehension for even considering visiting Arizona.  Or much of the Southwest area of this nation of ours, for that matter.

Take for instance The Return.  The novel is based on the disappearance of the mysterious Anasazi tribe, an ancient Pueblo peoples that existed and disappeared at the same time as the Aztecs and Mayans.  This isn’t the first time the Anasazi and the mystery surrounding their sudden disappearance has been used in fiction; the foremost – to me at least – being Louis L’Amour’s 1987 novel The Haunted Mesa.

Here in Bentley Little’s The Return, the story involves a University archeology dig that unearths something that may be a clue to the mystery behind the Anasazi, but something else much older than the ancient natives has reawakened, something that maybe had something to do with the ancient peoples’ sudden exit from existence, and now it’s doing the same thing to the modern day towns that have sprung up since its last appearance.  Next thing you know, the townfolk in the famed Four Corners area of the Southwest start acting weird…and by “weird” I mean savagely beating and killing outsiders like savages, natural disasters of Biblical proportions, and mass disappearances into an invisible quantum vortex.  And only a small handful of people seem to be immune to the ancient creature’s influence and must take a stand to bring it down.

Some of my favorite horror stories are based on native North American folklore.  And The Return isn’t my first exposure to the Anasazi in fiction.  The Return has a story that flows in a pretty good clip, save for a couple of slower parts.  The complaint that I do have, here, is that after a really great atmosphere building up on the tension and coming to a good head…the big climactic end confrontation is rather anticlimactic.  Matter of fact, there really isn’t much of an end conflict if you really want to get down to it.  The last ten pages itself will leave you thinking, “huh, that’s it?”

That said, otherwise, The Return is a pretty decent speculative horror novel that feels more organic than most. Check it out sometime, you may be surprised.

Book Review: HORNS (Joe Hill)

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Joe Hill

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.  He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances.

Merrin Williams is dead, slaughtered under inexplicable circumstances, leaving her beloved boyfriend Ignatius Perrish as the only suspect.  On the first anniversary of Merrin’s murder, Ig spends the night drunk and doing awful things.  When he wakes the next morning he has a thunderous hangover…and horns growing from his temples.  Ig possesses a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look – a macabre gift he intends to use to find the monster who killed his lover.  Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere.  Now it’s time for revenge…it’s time the devil had his due…

Okay, so, here’s the thing.  I find myself a fan of Joe Hill’s prose work.  After reading first Heart Shaped Box, and then his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, I was hooked on the guy’s style.  Now, after reading a trade paperback edition of his 2010 novel Horns, I must admit to being a full-fledged fan of the man’s output.  The problem is – his work on the comic series Locke & Key notwithstanding – there’s only the three books from him.  And I’ve read them already.  It’s not like when I got into, say (just picking it out at random, no reason at all) Stephen King back in the day, where after reading a couple there were still the plethora of novels by him to get my fix on, and…

Huh?  What’s that?  No, there was no reason I brought up Stephen King.  What?  No, you’re crazy. That can’t be right.  Feh.  Moving along…

Horns is Joe Hill’s second full-length novel, and let me tell you – he seems to have a very natural talent to tell a tale that is fantastical, yet in a way that seems quite plausible.  The characters, the dialogue between everyone, the entire scope of the story, everything seemed fleshed out and palpable without getting bogged down too much. The story kept on at a good clip, and though there were a couple of points where it may have dragged a skosh, overall this tale was over far too quickly.  Horns is a fantastic supernatural mystery thriller that kept me turning the pages, and lamenting the times where I had to put down the book for such mundane things as “working” or “sleeping” or “eating” and stuff like that.  Highly recommended.  Now, to wait for the next book.  This could be excruciating.

Book Review: The HOUSE (Bentley Little)

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The House

Bentley Little

Five strangers are about to discover that they share a dark bond.  A haunted childhood.  A shocking secret.  A memory of the houses they lived in – each one eerily identical to the next.  From the remote foothills of the west to the green lawns of sunny suburbia, they are returning – to the past, to the unspeakable events they long to forget…to the house.  And their journeys are about to converge, in one terrifying challenge to confront their nightmares – or be trapped inside them forever…

Bentley Little is another author I just recently started to get into in the past year, mostly due to the recommendations of a Laundromat attendant I knew, if you can believe that.  Well, I guess it doesn’t really make that much of a difference if you believe me or not, as it doesn’t really alter reality.  Unfortunately.

As far as Bentley Little goes, yeah…this guy seems to have a direct tap into that mysterious source of dark imagination that lies on that borderline on the edge of nightmarish madness.  The same kind of thing that the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King and Clive Barker dwell around regularly.  Only with Little, his fiction seems to blend together the real and the supernatural imaginings with a pretty talented hand, reminding me of Richard Matheson.

The House, Little’s tenth novel, is very fortunately not your usual haunted house kind of horror novel.  Yes, there’s the supernatural bleeding through to reality; yes, there are ghosts both malevolent and otherwise; and yes, there’s the whole mystery surrounding the questions of “why” and “how” that are addressed.  But, without giving away spoilers, it’s all handled with a unique-ish spin that kept me glued to the mystery of what was going on.  And let me just say, Mr. Little has a rather unassuming and twistedly disturbing imagination.  Not quite as dark as Clive Barker, but…yeah, it’s rather effective.

Overall, The House was a good, straight-forward horror tale, satisfying and inspired.

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