Movies tend to be the focus of the Six Weeks of Halloween, but I like to mix things up with some seasonal-appropriate written tales of terror as well (with the occasional work of non-fiction thrown in for fun). It makes for a nice change of pace from my normal dorky reading diet, while still maintaining high levels of dorkocity, which is important. Some of these are arguably not horror, but they’re at least seasonal, which is the whole point. I’ve already written about one epic-length book I read this season, and here’s a few others:
- NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – Vic McQueen discovers at an early age that she’s able to use her fancy Raleigh Tuff Burner bike to find whatever she desires by driving across a seemingly impossible covered bridge. It doesn’t matter how far away the object she seeks is located, she gets there in moments. Charlie Manx has a similar talent, though his magic vehicle is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, which he uses it to pick up young children and spirit them away to a horror-filled inscape he calls Christmasland, where he feeds on their life essence as a sort of vampire (the license plate on his car reads NOS4A2, a play on Nosferatu.) One day, in a fit of pique brought on by her feuding parents, Vic hops on her bike with the intention of seeking out trouble… and finds Manx. Due to sheer luck, she survives the encounter, but decades later, Vic’s son has disappeared and Vic has to confront Manx again. So Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and indeed, this book features a certain kinship with King’s brand of horror. There’s an archetypal quality to the supernatural elements of the story and the talismans that allow our characters to do the impossible. The book perhaps meanders a bit and lingers too long on certain aspects, making it feel a little loose and flabby, but it’s generally compelling, page turning stuff. It leans a little too heavily on dysfunctional relationships and pessimistic attitudes for my taste, but on the other hand, it never veers into full misery porn and what’s there does serve the story. Christmasland is a fascinating creation, clearly a worthy subversion of that holiday’s good cheer. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It’s a little too long, but it comports itself well.
- The Long Halloween by Joeseph Loeb (writer) and Tim Sale (Illustrator) – Not at all horror, but certainly seasonal. It’s a 13 issue arc of Batman where the caped crusader works with Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon to try and catch a mysterious murder who kills on each major holiday. Along the way, we’re treated to various episodic encounters with Batman’s infamous rogues gallery of villains… I picked this book up back when I got all fired up about Batman comics earlier in the year, but saved it for Halloween… mostly because of the title. It’s an interesting story, even moreso since it appears to be the basis for Christopher Nolan’s films. Those movies and particularly Batman Begins are clearly not an adaptation as there are tons of major differences, by many elements of Nolan’s Batman seem to originate here. Notably the focus on various crime families, which was apparently new at the time these comics were being published in the late 90s. The murder mystery itself does feel a bit on the sloppy side, but it’s all executed well enough, and it’s neat that we get to touch base with tons of iconic Batman villains throughout. The artwork was effective enough and the pacing was pretty good for such a long arc. This clearly isn’t perfect, but I really enjoyed it, and the added dimension of its influence on the movies does give it some extra zip.
- In the Flesh by Clive Barker – I believe that, with this volume, I’ve exhausted all of Barker’s “Books of Blood”, those long running series of short stories that lit the horror world on fire in the mid 80s. This is technically the fifth collection of stories (ironically, the first collection I read was Cabal, the sixth collection, not that it matters, since these are all disconnected short stories). This one only features four stories of moderate length (I believe they’d qualify for novellette or novella status), and they’re all decent. There is one standout, but the others tend to fall behind the stories in other volumes. The titular “In the Flesh” proceeds from the fascinating premise of a prisoner who committed murder with the objective of being incarcerated in a specific prison. You see, his grandfather was buried on the grounds after being executed decades earlier, but his spirit calls out to the new prisoner. The story is told from the prisoner’s cellmate, who gets wrapped up in the supernatural mumbo jumbo and eventually gets trapped in the afterlife. Or something. An interesting and creepy premise that sort of peters out in the end. This is an unfortunate theme in this particular collection, it seems. “The Forbidden” is arguably Barker’s best-known story from the Books of Blood, having been adapted into the movie Candyman. It features a university student visiting the slums in order to study the graffiti there. Most of the graffiti turns out to be boring and unenlightening, but then she stumbles on a particularly striking area depicting an urban legend known as the Candyman. This is probably the best overall story in the collection, though it does feel a bit overlong. Still, interesting stuff. “The Madonna” is about an abandonned pool complex. Some shady real estate developers are trying to figure out how to purchase it and make money off of it, but the otherworldly residents of the pools have other ideas. This one is also pretty effective, though again the ending is a little iffy. There’s some interesting themes here though, power and gender dysphoria among them. “Babel’s Children” is about a woman who stumbles upon a mysterious compound where, decades ago, a group of scientists and scholars were brought together to secretly rule the world. They are now elderly, sick of their task, and desire escape. This is mostly treated as mystery, but again, the ending leaves a bit to be desired and the whole idea is a little more on the silly side. Overall, this is a worthy read, but not quite up to par with the other Books of Blood collections.
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Technically a murder mystery, but Agatha Christie’s classic is also an originator for many horror tropes. A group of seemingly unrelated people are lured to an island under different pretext. It turns out that all of them are responsible for the death of another person, but escaped justice through legal technicalities. One by one, they die in mysterious circumstances, seemingly to match the details of an old nursery rhyme. Extremely complex, but simple to follow, this story is very detailed and exquisitely designed from start to finish. It is, maybe, a bit difficult to come up to speed on the 10 strangers right away, but as the book proceeds to kill off each one, we learn more and more, and begin to suspect more and more. I believe the term of art for this is “locked room mystery”, as there’s no apparent explanation for how or why the 10 murders were accomplished. And the solution actually works (it may be slightly underwhelming to jaded modern eyes, but I was pretty happy with it). Its influence on the horror genre is clearly apparent, with many stories relying on a similar structure. I think you could even say that this influenced the modern body-count story (like slashers!) Regardless, it was quite an enjoyable book, all the moreso because it’s short and concise.
- Horror Movie A Day: The Book by Brian W. Collins – I won’t say too much about this one since I have not gotten too far into it, but if you don’t know about Horror Movie A Day, this guy Brian Collins vowed to watch a horror movie every day (and write a review of said movie) and proceeded to do so for over 6 years. In this book, he’s chosen 365 of the more than 2500 movies he saw during that run, one for each day of the year, and written a quick overview of the movie (including a brief plot summary, an exerpt from his original review, and an updated commentary). Initial reading and scanning through the book indicates that Collins went for deep cuts here (rather than obvious horror classics), no doubt a welcome approach for horror hounds. I will almost certainly lean on this book when it comes to planning out next year’s Six Weeks of Halloween…
And that just about covers it. We’re in the final homestretch now, and all that remains is the customary Speed Round of movies I saw that didn’t conform to a weekly theme and, of course, the big day…