Posts Tagged ‘scary stuff’

I’ll admit, when I bought my ticket to see this movie in the theaters (yes, I went to a theater), I didn’t have high expectations. It had a good trailer, but plenty of bad films have good trailers. But I wanted to see some new horror, and who knows? It could surprise me.

Surprised, I was.

Come Play follows Oliver, a young, non-verbal autistic boy who is stalked by someone named Larry, who wants to be his friend. However, Larry isn’t human. He’s an entity, one that lives in the world of the digital and the Wi-Fi and interacts with our world through electronics. And he wants Oliver to be his friend, whether Oliver wants it or not.

First off, I thought Oliver ‘s actor did a great job playing an autistic character. As you know, I’m on the spectrum, and I recognized myself as a child and as an adult in Oliver. Stimming to stay calm, going to therapy, dealing with people who don’t understand what you’re going well. And I’ve been through the experience of kids pretending to be nice to me only to show a nastier side. Believe me, the struggle was (and in some ways, still is) real.

As for the film itself, it wasn’t half-bad. Jacob Chase, the writer and director, did a very good job of putting together a unique monster story. There were several moments where the atmosphere was tense and I was kind of afraid. And the jumpscares, while in another film would have been over the top, fit very well here. And I definitely didn’t see the final twist coming until it showed up.

The use of the villain Larry was also done very well. He’s not based on any sort of ancient mythology or anything, so points for originality. And yeah, the monster using a children’s book has been done by better films (*cough* The Babadook *cough*), but it’s given a different spin here, and the fact that Larry can only manifest through our ever-present devices and electronics added a certain element of danger you don’t normally see in these sorts of horror films. We also don’t see Larry that much, and when we do, he’s usually in shadow so we can’t make out all the details. Makes the fact that he’s basic CGI easier to handle.

Of course, the film does have its issues. While Larry was used well in the movie, I never felt entirely afraid of him. Also, the film relies on a lot of tropes we could get from a below-average Blumhouse movie, so it gets a little tropey and predictable at times. Especially the second half.

On the whole though, Come Play is good. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible either. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. All in all, I’m glad I went out to see it. And if you need a bit of new horror as well, maybe you will be too.

That’s probably it for October, my Followers of Fear. I hope you had as great a Halloween season as I did, despite the pandemic and all that went with it. Let’s hope November is good as well.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares and WATCH OUT FOR THAT TENTACLE!!!

“The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” by John Quidor, 1858

Recently, I rewatched a movie inspired by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that I first saw a teen. The movie was better in my memory, but it did get me interested in the original Washington Irving short story. Which, I realized, I’d never actually read. The closest I ever came was a version that had been updated for the 21st century and dumbed down for kids. As it was America’s first ghost story and I’m a horror writer from America, I figured I should correct that.

So, I read the short story. And then I did some research into the story’s background and influences, as well as some of the other adaptations (I will maintain to my death that the best version is the TV series Sleepy Hollow, and not the Disney cartoon or the Tim Burton film). And once again, following my interests has led me both down a rabbit hole and to an idea for a new story.

Still my preferred adaptation.

But first, let me tell you some things about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that may surprise you. Turns out, there’s a lot about this story than most realize.

For instance, there really were two historical figures named Ichabod Crane and Katrina Van Tassel. Yeah, they were real people. Washington Irving liked to name characters after people he met. For Katrina Van Tassel, she was the daughter of a family Irving stayed overnight with, and was charmed enough by her to immortalize her in fiction. I wonder how she felt about her character being a flirty MacGuffin whose father’s fortunes and lands were more relevant than her appearance or lack of a personality.

As for Ichabod Crane, he was a colonel in the US Army who served for nearly five decades (yes, I believe that’s where the TV show got the idea to make him a Revolutionary soldier as well). However, his character was likely based on an actual schoolteacher, Jesse Merwin, who taught in Kinderhook, New York and came from Connecticut, like the fictional Crane did. So…yay for namesakes?

Speaking of Washington Irving, he’s buried in the real town of Sleepy Hollow. Yeah, that’s true. They even worked that into the movie I mentioned at the top of the post (though they left a lot of questions in their wake).

But the biggest surprise I found out about America’s first ghost story? It’s not a ghost story.

Now I know what you’re thinking. But hear me out: while it’s regarded as a ghost story by many, this is mostly because the Headless Horseman and his midnight chase of Crane has entered the public consciousness more than any other aspect of the story. In reality, the Horseman plays only a minor role until the story’s climax.

Disney’s Headless Horseman. Traumatizing children and contributing to the confusion over the story since 1949.

So what is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, if not a ghost story? Why, it’s a somewhat comedic tale of two self-centered men vying for the hand of the local squire’s daughter and the cunning trick one uses to get ahead of the other.

In one corner, you have Ichabod Crane, the educated but superstitious outsider who uses his learning and guile to ingratiate himself into the town, feed his gluttonous appetite and maybe marry into a wealthy lifestyle. In the other, you have Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt, the local tough who is more brawny than intelligent but is stubborn and cunning, and may be just as interested in Katrina Van Tassel as he is in her inheritance. Neither one is exactly likable, but it’s fun to see these two go to extremes just to marry Katrina.

And while most adaptations paint the Horseman as a supernatural entity, the original story strongly hints that Brom was dressed up as the Horseman to scare the superstitious Ichabod out of town, which is why the latter disappeared from Sleepy Hollow. In fact, the first feature film adaptation of the story, the 1922 silent film The Headless Horseman, explicitly shows Brom taking off the costume after Ichabod runs for his life for New York City.

As I said though, the Horseman, which is likely based on the Irish myth of the dullahan and other European myths of headless horsemen (trust me, there are a few, though the dullahan’s the most famous), is what made it into pop culture more than anything else, and may play a key role in why the story is still famous today. That, and the Disney cartoon, but mostly the Horseman.

In any case, all this has given me my own ideas for a sequel story to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. And while I’m working hard on that, I thought I’d mention this all now. Because let’s face it, it’s all so fascinating. Also, I probably won’t have time to mention it in the post announcing the completion of the first draft. Might as well do it here.

But tell me, what’s your take on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? Did you know any of this stuff? What’s your favorite adaptation? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now. I’ll be at work on the story if you need me. Until next time, Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Photo by Pedro Figueras on Pexels.com

Yep, I’m doing another one of these.

So, I’ve done several posts where I list haunted places before I become some sort of spirit myself (and yes, I plan on having that happen). And as I come across more places that are alleged to be haunted, the longer my list grows. Here’s my latest list. I hope you’re ready to note what places you’re going to avoid from now on. If you’re not as brave as me, that is.

The Amityville House, Amityville, New York
Also known as 112 Ocean Avenue, this house is as infamous as it is famous. You know, the Amityville Horror and all that. I’m just wondering how much of it is real. You’ve got people of all sorts saying one way or the other. Hell, even paranormal enthusiasts and investigators are unsure if it’s haunted. Only one way to find out, right?

Drift Inn Saloon, Globe, Arizona
The Drift Inn Saloon is a well-known restaurant and bar in Arizona. The building itself dates back to the early 20th century, and it has a lot of history to it. Which might explain why it’s rumored to be haunted. In fact, I think it’s been investigated by a few paranormal groups at some point. I would enjoy going there myself. Maybe some fish and chips, a bit of beer, and some ghost hunting. What more could I ask for?

63rd and Wallace Street Post Office, Chicago, Illinois
It may look like an ordinary post office. And for all intents and purposes, it is an ordinary post office. Except for one thing. It happens to be on the land where serial killer HH Holmes built his World Fair Hotel. A place like that might be filled with spirits. In fact, I heard a report (unsubstantiated) that a paranormal investigative team did go into the office and try to contact some spirits. I don’t know if they found anything, if the investigation did happen, but I would like to go into that post office and see if anything’s floating about in there.
Maybe I’ll at least drive by when I visit Chicago next year…

Boston Township, Ohio
It looks like a quaint little burg in Northeast Ohio, but that might not be the case. Part of the township was evacuated, and there are rumors it was because of a chemical spill. Whatever the reason, people have alleged that since, the town has become a hotspot for cults, spirits, and even mutants. The area has since been nicknamed Helltown, and while some of the structures have been torn down, others that are still standing have been rumored to be haunted.
I don’t know if any of it is true, but a colleague did go there, and she said there was some weird and creepy stuff about the area. So maybe I should go there myself and check it out with my own eyes.

Deerpark Christian Brothers School, Cork County, Ireland
A few years ago, videos surfaced of what appeared to be violent poltergeist activity at a school in Ireland. The videos went viral and there’s been a lot of debate about whether the videos were staged or real. There are arguments for both, obviously. Either way, I’d enjoy seeing an investigation in there to check for anything weird. Obviously, I would lead the charge to investigate.
Thank you to my Uncle Arthur for telling me about this one in the first place. Much appreciated.

Anchorage Mansion, Marietta, Ohio
A lovely Victorian mansion, it was built in 1859 by Douglas Putnam for his wife Eliza, who died in the house three years later. It was also a nursing home for a time, before becoming a historical landmark. Supposedly Mrs. Putnam’s spirit haunts the place, as does another former owner and two children.
Compared to the Bellaire House, this is the kind of haunted Victorian I’d like to live in. But since that won’t happen, I’d like to investigate it one day. And guess what? They offer tours!

Hayswood Hospital, Maysville, Kentucky
An old hospital from Maysville, it’s gone through numerous hands, forms and name changes, including at one point a seminary. But for most of its history, it was a hospital, and I’m sure plenty of people passed away there. Nowadays the structure is closed and boarded up, possibly so that it can be renovated one day. However, I’ve heard through the grapevine that people who’ve broken in have witnessed orbs and other strange phenomena. And it’s just a creepy sort of setting.
Sounds perfect for me.

Chillingham Castle, Northumberland, England
Supposedly the most haunted castle in the UK, the castle dates back to the 1200s and is full of history. It may also be full of spirits, including that of a “blue boy” who appears in certain rooms glowing a brilliant blue color. Supposedly, the sightings of this child ended after renovations uncovered a skeleton in a wall, but there are likely plenty of other spirits about.
Can I please check in?

Capuchin Catacombs, Palermo, Italy
What would possess a monastery to house its former dead and many patrons in a catacombs as mummies? I’m not entirely sure, but it’s real: there’s a series of catacombs in Palermo where monks used to place the mummified bodies of their brethren, as well as patrons whose families paid for their spot. This includes the mummy of a little girl whose eyes appear to open and close at certain times of the day.
It’s a macabre tourist attraction, and it sounds like my kind of thing. And who knows? Perhaps there are a few spirits roaming about.

Sleepy Hollow, New York
Turns out, the place where America’s first ghost story was set has a few ghosts of its own. In addition to the Headless Horseman, that is. Supposedly there’s a statue in the cemetery (where, by the way, Washington Irving is buried alongside many other luminaries) that weeps. And perhaps other people are haunting that cemetery and the old houses.
I’m curious enough to find out. Are you?

“Haunted: True Tales of the Paranormal.” Definitely not something to miss this Halloween.

Well, that’s the latest list from me, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you found this a wonderfully chilling list. But tell me, have you heard of any of these places? Have you been to any of them? Any more you might recommend? Let’s discuss.

And make sure to check out “Haunted: True Tales of the Paranormal” from Gestalt Media, an audio collection of people relating their supernatural and paranormal experiences. There’s plenty of spooky tales and episodes, including a chilling recounting of my night at the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast three years ago. Trust me, it’s not something you’ll want to miss this Halloween. And you can check it out by clicking this link.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

The Hunger, looking rather snug with my spices and seasonings.

After reading The Deep earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before I read Alma Katsu’s other book, The Hunger, which follows the Donner Party. Which, if you don’t know who that is, were a caravan of settlers who got snowed in the mountains of California in the winter of 1846-47 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.* And this October, I made it part of my Halloween reading.

As I said above, The Hunger follows the Donner Party, a pioneering wagon train led by George Donner and his family as they head west to California. However, this isn’t a simple retelling of a horrific tale. Something’s following the wagon train, picking off members. As tensions rise and odd events pile up, it becomes clear that’s something afoot. And it could be human. It could be animal. Or it could be something man has never classified before. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: it is very, very hungry.

The Deep was good, but The Hunger was even better. It’s a slow burn, but what’s burning away isn’t just the plot, but the sense of ease. As you go further along in the story and more strange and terrible events occur, you start to feel this awful tension. You’re going to get to the inevitable, but it’s not going to be what you expected. And you have no idea what’s going to happen while on your way there.

Speaking of which, the twist on what the source of the terror was at the end was great. I wasn’t expecting it, which is saying something for me. And when I finally did get an idea of what it was, it left me extremely satisfied. As well as worried about what could happen if such a thing were to exist in this world, but I think that was what the author was going for.

I also liked the characters. Alma Katsu has a talent for taking these huge casts and giving the majority of them enough development to make you like them. George Stanton, trying to outrun his past; Tamsen Donner, suspected of being a witch, when all she wants is to fill a great void within her; Elitha Donner, who hears voices no one else does; Mary Graves, who wants adventure in the great wide somewhere; and Edwin Bryant, who knows so much more than he lets on. These, and others, are characters I came to care for, even as I knew what was likely to happen to them.

There were a couple of downsides to this novel. One was that there were chapters where the reader was taken to significant events in the characters’ pasts, events which likely had an effect on them joining the wagon train. Some of these were relevant to the story and fleshed things out, but a few, especially earlier chapters like this, felt unnecessary.

That, and if you’re here for the actual Donner tale, it should be obvious by now that The Hunger isn’t that. Not a downside, just a different kind of horror based on a real-life horror.

All in all, The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a deliciously terrifying novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m granting it a 4.7. Grab a copy, order a steak dinner, and get ready for a slow ride across the US to the land of frights. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

*When I would describe this plot to people who asked me what I was reading, I would follow it up by going, “Om nom nom nom nom!” Totally worth the reactions I got.

The Bellaire House in Bellaire, Ohio. Looks like it was made for a haunting, doesn’t it?

You’ve been patient, you’ve been supportive and kind. I apologize for the delay, but it’s finally here. Let me tell you about the Bellaire House, where I did an investigation with friends this past weekend (October 10th, if you’re reading this in the future).

So, how did this come about? Well, I made some friends at the public ghost hunt at the Ohio State Reformatory last year. Among them were Dave and Danette, a couple who weren’t afraid to visit some haunted locations while on their road trips. They let me know they were going to be going through Ohio, and might be visiting a haunted house for an overnight. They wanted to know if I would be interested in joining them, as well as members of Tri-C Ghost Hunters, a group of paranormal investigators whose members included friends we’d made last year at the ghost hunt.

Obviously, even with a pandemic, I wanted in, and after some back and forth, we settled on the Bellaire House, a location I’d never heard of before but which, after a little research, I found quite entrancing. Located in Bellaire, Ohio, the house was built and owned in the mid-19th century (I originally thought it was the 20th) by the Heatherington family. One member, Edwin Heatherington (I thought he was called Edmund), did some seances after his sister Lyde died in the house. That may have opened up a portal in the house, leading to the hauntings.

Years later, the house would be bought by the Lee family, who would discover its many spirits and try to flee Amityville style. Only instead of never returning, they ended up turning it into a paranormal research hotspot. (I go into more history in the videos).

I arrived in Bellaire on October 10th and met Dave and Danette at a diner for a late lunch. After eating and catching up, we went to the house. And after I got my stuff inside, I started filming, starting with the exterior.

After shooting the exterior, we went back inside and I did a tour of the house. This time, I got out the GoPro again to do the tour.

Spoiler alert, that skull was real! Yeah, the Lees confirmed it. I just don’t have it on video.

Now, before I go any further with this story, there’s something you should know. Normally when I enter haunted places, I feel pretty peaceful. Even the Lizzie Borden House, where the titular ghost threatened me while I was sleeping in her room, didn’t put me on edge. However, the Bellaire House was different. It had an energy to it. From the moment I walked in, it felt weird. As cool as it was, it was not a house I would not want to spend too much time in.

Later on, it would feel peaceful. Especially in the light of morning. But I knew it was a calm before a storm. Like I said, that house had a feel to it. And it was even stronger in the attic. I felt tingles in my fingers when I first went there.

Whatever that house used to be, it’s no longer a happy home. It’s not meant to be.

Anyway, around five-thirty or six, the rest of our party for the evening arrived: Greg and Kathy, whom Danette, Dave and I had met at the Reformatory last year, and Nikkie and Dan, who are apparently from my county (small world). We got to talking and getting to know each other. And after that, the owners of the House, Daniel and Kristen Lee, arrived to tell us about the house, it’s history and their experiences there.

If you didn’t watch the full video, then let me tell you something. I could tell the Lees were really uncomfortable in the house. They laughed it off, but you could tell. And I kind of understand. While I would like to live in a haunted house, I don’t want one that has a malevolent or toxic presence in it. And I’m a horror and paranormal nut! The Lees are what I would call normies. And they were so disturbed by what they went through, they tried fleeing to Massachusetts! Yet they still had to come back. Now this house is part of their livelihood, and it must be a mental and psychological toll on them.

Like having to work in a jailhouse, I’d imagine. Only, who exactly are the prisoners and who are the jailers?

I’ll end this post with that thought. I’ll go into the investigation in Part 2. However, if you go to my YouTube channel, you’ll find all the videos I took already there.

And as for Haunted, the audio collection of paranormal stories I’m apart of, it’s been delayed due to technical issues. But it should be out before too long. And it’ll be worth the wait, believe me. I listened to part of it, especially my section. Believe me, it’s quite spooky. And I’ll be posting the links as soon as I have them.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have Part 2 out soon (among other posts). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Do you remember Never Hike Alone, the Friday the 13th fan film that was leagues better than the 2011 remake? I reviewed it about two years ago, and I still stand by that review. It is a great film, and way better than that crap remake.* So, I was excited when I found out last month that Womp Stomp Films, the YouTube channel that created Never Hike Alone, were making more Friday the 13th fan films! Even better, the first would be a prequel, Never Hike in the Snow, and was coming out on October 13th, 2020. Yesterday.

Yeah, I watched it. And now I’m spreading the word about it.

Never Hike in the Snow (which I’m told takes place three months before the events of Never Hike Alone), begins with a missing persons investigation in the woods near Crystal Lake. A teenager has gone missing in the middle of the snow and trees, and the only clues are his mother’s car and a pool of blood. While some, like the local sheriff, won’t admit the truth. But some, like Tommy Jarvis, who survived Jason not once but twice, know the truth, and are prepping for the inevitable.

You know, prequels are naturally things people get wary about. People remember all the problems with the (albeit entertaining) Star Wars prequels. But this was really good. The best part was the opening, which depicts the missing teen’s run in to Jason. It’s epic and thrilling, and feels like the best of the classic Friday the 13th chase scenes ramped up to eleven. And the way it ends, you’re so entranced by what’s happened, you ignore how bright and corn syrupy the blood looks!

The rest of the movie shows various characters’ reactions to the situation, especially for those who are in the know about what lives in the woods. It’s a great change from the first fan film, which focused solely on one person’s experience with Jason. And it proves that there’s still plenty to do with this franchise and characters than sending them to New York or to space.

There’s plenty of other stuff to enjoy with this film, of course. The cinematography is beautiful, the actors put their all into their characters, and the finale was bloody brilliant (in more ways than one). And it even has Thom Matthews reprising his role as Tommy Jarvis from both the first film and from Friday the 13th Part VI (yes, they got the actual actor from the film series. How crazy is that?).

This shot says it all about this fan-made film.

That being said, I had a few problems with the film. The film’s only thirty minutes long, and while it has an epic finale, the way it ends makes this feel less like a prequel and more like the first episode of a TV series. Knowing we won’t get an episode two kind of cheapens the effect.

That, and there’s a moment where we see things from Jason’s unique perspective that I didn’t care for. I mean, I like the idea of it, but it was just too sweet. It runs into the same problem with the Rob Zombie Halloween movies: if you humanize these mythic killers too much, you lose their effectiveness as movie monsters. His backstory is enough. No need to pull at our heartstrings.

All in all though, Never Hike in the Snow is a violent and excellent tribute to the Friday the 13th franchise and the place it has in the minds of the fans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4. Bundle up, sit down and check it out.

Also, can’t wait for the next film in this fan series. Whenever that comes out (probably a decade before an official Friday the 13th film comes out. I mean, how long have they been developing a new film?).

*Granted, that’s not hard to accomplish. Most films are better than that Michael Bay-produced piece of crap that feels more like an excuse to show off half-naked women than anything else (no, I will never waste an opportunity to hate on that film). But there’s being better, and then there’s taking the time to actually create a great film around Jason Voorhees, and Never Hike Alone was the latter.

I’ll admit it: I haven’t read any of Clive Barker’s books yet. I’ve seen some of the film adaptations, especially Hellraiser, but not his books. I know, shame on me. What kind of horror fan am I? Well, I’ve downloaded the first volume of Books of Blood on audio book.

But before that, I watched a new adaptation of his famous collections of short stories, Books of Blood on Hulu, which tells three interconnected tales involving the titular book.

Now, I’m not usually one for anthology movies. Or maybe I just haven’t shown enough of an interest. But this one was really good. The first two stories are very well-written, particularly the first one, “Jenna.”* The settings look great, and the acting never feels hammy or terrible. What special effects there are, they’re done so nothing looks silly or fake.

And of course, there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood. Enough to not make a liar out of the title.

That being said, there are a couple of negatives to the film. While there’s plenty of scary imagery and tense moments, there wasn’t any point until near the very end where I felt frightened. And while the stories were well-written, you could see the twists for most of them coming and the last one, “Bennett,” had no surprises at all.

And while the stories were interconnected, I wasn’t really satisfied with how a couple of them were connected. I would have liked more emphasis on the connections and how each story could play into and influence each other.

But on the whole, Books of Blood is a decent enough adaptation of the source material. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4. If you like horror anthology movies, this might be something to put onto your watchlist.

Just be careful not to watch it while drinking red wine, tea made for you by someone else, or stay at a bed and breakfast while watching it.

*Not sure if any of the stories in the film are based on stories in the books, but I think I’ll find that out if I enjoy Volume One and decide to continue with the series.

Happy October 1st, everyone! Yeah, who cares what 2020 has thrown at us so far? It’s now October, which means we’re in the best month of the year. The month where everything gets a bit darker, a bit cooler, and a whole lot spookier.

In fact, I have actual footage of myself waking up this morning and realizing it’s October 1st. Check it out:

Where did that light come from? How did my glasses get on my face when I don’t normally sleep with them off my face? Doesn’t matter. I am what I am, and what that is likely isn’t human, so why question it?

Also, if you haven’t checked out my YouTube channel, consider checking it out and subscribing. I don’t post there often, but what I do feels genuinely like something I’d post. So why not check it out?

Anyway, now that it’s October, you can expect plenty more horror content (more than usual, anyway) as Halloween approaches. Plenty of reviews, discussions of what makes good horror or horror-related topics, and who knows? Maybe some spooky good news on the writing front.

Plus a few posts that don’t fit that mold, because what’s life without variety?

Anyway, I expect even with COVID-19 and an election and a million other things making 2020 a shit show out there, this month will surely be fun. Even if we can’t go trick or treating or see most horror films in a movie theater. For instance, I’m going to be visiting the Bellaire House, a haunted house on the Ohio-West Virginia border, some time this month with friends for an overnight investigation.

Yeah, that’s right! I’m going to another haunted location! And this one supposedly has a demon in the attic. Sounds like I’m having a family reunion soon.

And who knows what else I’ll be getting up to this month?

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll surely have a couple of blog posts out soon. Until next time, Happy October, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

At the time I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of Chapter Ten of the second draft of Toyland, the Gothic horror/dark fantasy novel I finished earlier this year. And let me tell you, as I work through each chapter and make my edits, I find myself in awe.

What the hell was I thinking when I wrote some of these chapters?

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Toyland, it takes place in an Ohio boarding school and follows students who become aware of a ghost haunting their school, one obsessed with a children’s book and that may be harming some of the students. Yeah, bonkers premise, but I make it work. At least, I’m hoping to make it work. Hence why I’m editing it rather than publishing it right here and now.

And I’m glad I am editing it. Because I cannot believe some of the shit I wrote. I mean, yeah, I was writing the early chapters during NaNoWriMo last year, so there’s a good chance I was up late and either sleep-deprived or hopped up on caffeine (or, if it was a weekend, buzzed). But still, some of these lines! What was I thinking? 

For example, in Chapter One, my protagonist Mason heads to the men’s rooms in the dorms. Here’s how I describe it:

Gabe and Mason entered, the door hinges squealing behind them. To the left were the stalls and sinks for the normal bodily functions.

“Normal bodily functions.” As opposed to what, Rami? Are there other kinds of stalls and sinks in bathrooms? Just what the fuck were you talking about?

And there are other passages like that, sprinkled here and there. Every time I come across them, I wonder what my state of mind was when I wrote them. Either that, or if I was just that desperate to make a fifty thousand word count by the end of November.

And in Chapter Ten, the one I’m working on now, I did something incredibly stupid the first time around. Mason the protagonist is about to reveal to a classmate of his about some of the strange events in the school. The story then fast-forwards to hours later, where Mason recalls the conversation in flashback. 

When I read that, I was taken out of the story for a second. I imagine potential readers will have that same experience as well. So now I’m busy rewriting Chapter Ten so that it flows better and doesn’t take the reader out of the story. It’s a pain in the ass, and I’m annoyed at myself for writing the story that way. What the hell was I thinking?

Well, that’s where the story is right now. The good news is, as I get further along, I find fewer of these problems. Hopefully that stays true for the rest of the second draft. But man, until I get to that point, I’m going to be looking back and shaking my head at those sections. 

So, that’s where I stand with Toyland, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep working on it until probably October 1st, when I have to edit a couple of short stories for some publications that will be opening for submissions soon. But after that, barring anything else coming up, I’ll be back at work on Toyland and hopefully have it done by Halloween. Wish me luck.

Also, to my fellow Jews, tonight starts Yom Kippur, where we atone for our past transgressions and pray and fast for forgiveness. To you, I wish an easy fast and Gmar Chatimah Tovah, or “a good sealing” in the Book of Life. As well as a pizza party after the fast ends (wink).

Until next time, Followers of Fear, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

One thing I can always count on with a Junji Ito collection. The artwork is always fantastic. And this latest collection of short stories, Venus in the Blind Spot, is full of some of his best work.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Junji Ito, he’s a manga artist who specializes in horror, and is well known for illustrations that terrify and creep the hell out of readers. Hell, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable leaving his books on the night stand beside my bed without something to cover them, the illustrations are that terrifying. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, and I’ve reviewed some of those stories and collections here on the blog, such as his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his masterpiece Uzumaki (click here and here for those reviews).

His latest publication in North America is Venus in the Blind Spot, and I loved just about every story within. The majority of the stories revolve around obsession, especially romantic or sexual obsession. The titular story follows the members of a UFO society as their obsession with the founder’s daughter becomes skewed after they lose the ability to see her. There’s also the fan-favorite The Enigma at Amigara Fault,  which I’ve read before but was excited to find again. It revolves around finding something strange that’s just right for you, and the insanity of not claiming it, of not finding out its secret. Even if by doing so, you potentially doom yourself.

My favorite stories were Billions Alone, a creepy body horror story about people being found sewn together that’s perfect for the current pandemic, and The Licking Woman, a weird story about a wild woman whose monstrous tongue contains a poison that kills all whom it licks.

And like I said, the artwork is fantastic. Ito-sensei’s work is never concerned with looking visually appealing like other visual artists. Rather, he wants to provoke a reaction. Fear, disgust, horror, unease. He wants to disturb your inner Zen. You can see this especially with three of the stories which are adaptations of works by other authors. Yes, they’re not his stories, but he puts his all into making sure his art brings out all the terror contained within the words.

Famous image from “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” which is some of Ito’s work at its best.

That being said, the collection isn’t perfect. While there are colored pages and colored panels, they show up inconsistently, and it’s a little annoying. Sometimes I can’t even tell they’re colored, as I’m red-green colorblind and the panels use colors I can’t always see. One of the stories, The Principal Post, is one I’ve never really liked nor understood why it was published. And there’s a story about Ito-sensei himself and the influence of another artist, Kazuo Umezu,* on his work that I liked, but which might annoy fans seeking another scary story.

But all in all, Venus in the Blind Spot is an awesome, freaky and unsettling collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give it a 4.5. If you want to see a Junji Ito collection at its best, you can’t go wrong here. Open it up and get ready to experience the madness.

Are you a fan of Ito-sensei’s work? Did you read this collection? Are you excited for all the adaptations of his work in production? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on my own stories and see if I can’t disturb someone else’s inner Zen. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares and why is there a woman with a giant tongue outside my building?

*Highly recommend his series The Drifting Classroom. It’s like a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies, and just as brutal.