Algernon Blackwood, The Complete John Silence Stories
Readers steeped in the annals of horror fiction will recognize the name Algernon Blackwood; you've probably read "The Willows" and "The Wendigo," his most often anthologized tales. But you may be missing out if you don't seek his John Silence stories as well.
Doctor John Silence is a supernatural detective, though as a man of independent means he only takes on the cases of those who either can't otherwise afford his services or who are in dire danger from the forces they've encountered. Like Sherlock Holmes, Silence always brings matters to a head. Whether it's a case of disturbed elementals guarding an Egyptian mummy or malevolent echoes from long ago, Silence gets to the bottom of things with an implacable stoicism and mastery of the occult. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in occult detective stories.
Eric Powell, The Goon: Bunch of Old Crap, An Omnibus, Volume 5
I've reached the end of the original run of The Goon! I'm really glad I gave this one another spin; this comic has a delightful level of monster mash and psychotronic violence that really speaks to something deep in my soul.
Things get dire in the final stretch of the comic, and I wasn't really expecting The Goon to get all emotional on me. I also didn't anticipate the narrative being framed around H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau, but that was certainly an unexpected treat. I'm going to go ahead and make time for the newer issues of The Goon that aren't part of the omnibus retrospective. You gotta go all in on The Goon.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the 1986 Hellraiser was a game-changer for me. I was already well and truly steeped in horror movies, but I had never seen anything as transgressively weird as Hellraiser up until that point. That fateful viewing turned me into a Clive Barker obsessive in general and a Hellraiser fan in specific; after watching it I was on a path to read the original book, collect the comics, and write my own DIY rpg about characters who had escaped from the cenobites' clutches.
All of which means that the 2022 reboot of the film franchise had a lot of live up to. While I wouldn't call it an essential film, I feel it's safe to say that it's the best Hellraiser movie we've gotten since Hellraiser II, and by a wide margin at that. (Though I do have a soft spot for the oft-maligned Hellraiser IV.) The new film manages to capture some of the original's fetishistic energy, and it doesn't skimp on the gore either. The plot might be a little too self-involved for its own good, but I had a surprisingly good time watching this one.
Marilyn Ross, Barnabas Collins
If October isn't the prefect time for another foray into the sordid world of Dark Shadows paperbacks, I don't know when you'd pick to read one of these. Barnabas Collins is one of those Dark Shadows stories that delves into a past visit of the titular main character to Collinsport. Barnabas is an ultra-creep in this one; he fixates on a child who looks like Josette, adopts her, raises her as a kind of father figure--all in hopes of marrying her the second she comes of age!
Interestingly, Barnabas Collins sets up a potential narrative problem for the series as a whole later down the line. Since Victoria Winters is reading about Barnabas's exploits in the past--in which he is revealed to be a vampire--she should immediately realize what's up when Barnabas shows up in the current era. Ooops!
Ravenloft: Orphan of Agony Isle #4
Aha! Now the presence (and sometimes odd placement) of the "back-up stories" in Orphan of Agony Isle makes sense! Without saying too much, everything comes together in the final issue of this Ravenloft comic. Heh heh. All in all, it's not a particularly deep or even thrilling comic (I think I would have preferred more adventure out of it), but for fans of the setting there is plenty to mull over. And now I have this horrible temptation to put Miranda into my campaign as an NPC. But for good or for ill, that's the question...
Blackbirds is a new roleplaying game "powered" by the Zweihander system. The game reminds me a bit of Christopher Buehlman's Between Two Fires (which we recently covered on Bad Books for Bad People): it is a dark fantasy game that takes place in a Europe-like continent that is currently torn apart by war, where the heavens themselves have been irrevocably assaulted by forces of darkness, and where monsters of legend now walk the land. The book is gorgeous; it's also enormous, so while my initial reaction is very positive, I'll really need to delve deeper into it to have a firmer grasp of what makes it tick and what makes it special. For now, though, I'm very impressed, as Blackbirds looks to be a pretty unique offering.
Peter Straub, Ghost Story
I have a lot more to say about Peter Straub's Ghost Story on Bad Books for Bad People, but for now it will suffice to say that I had some huge swings of opinion while evaluating this novel! While reading the early bits of the novel, I was enjoying it as one of those mid-range Standard American Horror novels--something in the ballpark of a solid Stephen King novel. (And unsurprisingly King loves this book and talks it up in Danse Macabre.) However, by the end of the novel I really didn't like some of the directions it had gone in. Truth be told, I'm still kind of mad about one of its climatic moments!
Nevertheless, I sat with my reaction for a bit and the more I analyzed the novel the more I can around to enjoying the pieces it had set out for me to rearrange. This may be a case of my brain tricking me into thinking this is a deeper story than it really is, but I'll take it.
Still mad about that climatic scene, though.
When I saw this concrete skull at the antique store, I just couldn't resist. I've never really seen an item there quite like this; it reminds me of something you'd see on the cover of a Hooded Menace album. What will I do with this thing? Who knows, but now it is mine!
Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, Moonshine vol. 1 and 2
A smooth-talking wanna-be gangster gets sent from NYC to the deep hills of Appalachia to secure a deal on some top-quality hooch, but he gets more than he bargained for in Moonshine. And that "more than he bargained for" has fur, claw, fangs, and issues with the lunar cycle. All that in the midst of a burgeoning war that will pit an Appalachian clan against tommy gun-toting goodfellas for control of the hooch supply in Prohibition-era America. Think of Moonshine as gangsters vs. hillbillies vs. werewolves. There are also some hints that the formula may eventually become gangsters vs. hillbillies vs. werewolves vs. witches. It's an odd comparison to make, but it's like if O Brother were a horror tale. Where the first volume sets things up, the second volume feels like the beginnings of a redemption arc. I'll definitely be reading more to see where exactly this one is heading.
Cider Mill Donuts
I don't really have a lot of holiday traditions, but every year in October I need to make a run to the Cider Mill in Endicott, NY to get a batch of piping-hot fresh donuts. The new variation on this tradition is also grabbing a cider slushy at the same time. That's a combo that can't be beat.
Laura Purcell, The Corset
In general, I'm a mark for modern Gothic novels set in the nineteenth century, but Laura Purcell's The Corset has the advantage of actually being quite good. Concerning a young murderess who believes she has committed a number of serial atrocities with her ability to stitch doom into every garment she makes, The Corset slyly questions the economic tyranny at work in the Victorian era.
Wisely, Purcell leaves just enough wiggle room for the reader to productively wonder if the central character possesses supernatural powers or if she's just a traumatized young woman seeking solace in magical thinking to make sense of the terrible circumstances of her life. Running parallel to the main story is another thread--this one about a wealthy young woman who is devoted both to phrenology and the charitable act of trying to save the souls of women condemned to death. Of course, there's more to her story as well, and they way the two strands entwine is remarkable.
Dracula's Fiancee is a late-era Jean Rollin film, which in some ways is a true testament to his obsession with certain images and themes because it is very much in tune with his earlier, more celebrated vampire films. As is typical of a Jean Rollin film, Dracula's Fiancee doesn't make a ton of sense; it's a dreamlike tale about vampire hunters pursuing Dracula through his minions and the nuns who have been driven insane from imprisoning the vampire's secrets. Nice to see Brigitte Lehaie as one the vampire lord's compatriots, and also nice to see that they let her ride a horse for this role.
Agatha Christie, Hallowe'en Party
I have decided to embrace being an old man by getting really into Agatha Christie. I may have read some of Christie's short fiction before in anthologies, but Hallowe'en Party is my first Agatha Christie novel. Felt appropriate given the season. When a teenager is drowned in the "bobbing for apples" bucket at a party, Poirot is called in to solve the mystery of whodunnit.
There's a weird fixation in Hallowe'en Party about "kids today" and the mentally ill being allowed to roam free instead of being locked away like in the good ol' days. So many characters mention it!
Made with the leftover funds from one of Roger Corman's movies, Dementia 13 was Francis Ford Coppola's first "real" film. It's definitely a Psycho ripoff, but it's admittedly a pretty good one. When a man's grief-stricken mother plans to leave the family's wealth to charity in the name of her deceased daughter, his wife begins scheming to get her hands on the loot. Little does she realize that there is more going on in Castle Haloran than she initially suspects.
One thing that's pretty funny about this one is that the Irish Haloran family has nary an Irish accent to be heard!
Charles Addams, Dear Dead Days: A Family Album
I have no idea how accurate the gimmick is, but Dear Dead Days purports to be a collection of macabre oddities that inspired the Addams Family cartoons. Compiled within are a number of photographs and artworks of freaks, train crashes, coffins & cadavers, and other morbidities. This kind of collection probably wouldn't get a mass-market paperback nowadays, to which I can only say--retvrn to tradition.
House of the Dragon
When House of the Dragon was first announced, I was not interested at all. Having come off the lackluster final season of Game of Thrones, and knowing full well the average quality of subsidiary spinoff products, more Dragon Show did not sound like a worthwhile endeavor.
But, as it turns out, it is. House of the Dragon really benefits from its smaller cast in comparison to Game of Thrones; the more intense focus on what is an increasingly tense powder keg doesn't feel shaggy or like it's stalling for time. Yeah, the passage of time is still a little off, but damn, this show is much stronger than I would have guessed.
This book is a compilation of all the published issues of Seance magazine, a periodical aimed at stage magicians who did "medium" or "spirit magic" acts. It's really a fascinating glimpse at a world that is most definitely not my own, a kind of snapshot of a very niche audience during a very narrow band of time from the late 80s to the early 90s.
Also, that cover!
The Cult Films of Brigitte Lahaie
I would assume most folks buy The Cult Films of Brigitte Lahaie for the plethora of naughty pictures of its stunningly beautiful subject, but little do they know that they're getting a really nice, concise history of France's pornography boom in the 70s and early 80s. There are plenty of mini-interviews and quotes throughout from the people who were there and made it happen. Against all odds, it sounds like a period where sex work wasn't necessarily a misery of exploitation. Oddly, at least to me, Lahaie's stint in obscure horror films feels like it's given short shrift by comparison.
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Topps' adaptation of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula is having something of a renaissance lately, even being reissued in a deluxe collection, but I had no idea that Topps also did an adaptation of Kenneth Branagh's Frankenstein film until I found all the issues selling for a couple bucks in a weird local shop. The art in the comic is actually quite nice, though it does suffer from the histrionics of Branagh's iteration of Mary Shelley's novel. Perhaps the most interesting bit is the inclusion of a snippet of something called The Frankenstein/Dracula War, another comic I had no idea even existed.
Through the Breach: Return to Innocence and The Voyage Volume
I picked up two adventure books for the Through the Breach rpg. Return to Innocence is actually a sequel to a previous adventure called In Defense of Innocence; if we take Innocence to be the default "starting town" of the game, this adventure serves up more of the same. Initially called upon to investigate the death of the town's mayor, the scenario just gets weirder and weirder from there on out.
The Voyage Volume is a collection of one-shot adventures. One thing I really like about this compilation of scenarios is the breadth of them; you get everything from an undead pirate adventure to wintry horror, and then over to a trip to the moon and one of those neon-colored 80s nostalgia trips. Hell, there's even a Halloween-themed one-shot in there. My only gripe: would it kill them to draw a few maps?
Ripley's Believe It or Not True Ghost Stories
It's tradition for me to read a few crumbling old horror comics before Halloween, but I didn't really find many this year in my (limited) travels. Usually I read some Charlton comics or some DC comics, but this year I had these Ripley's Believe It or Not: True Ghost Stories comics by Gold Key. Fun, and there was even a story about La Voisin, who I last encountered on our Bad Books episode about The Affair of the Poisons.
I was honestly surprised by how much fun X was. There's a fine line between homage and pointless exercise in nostalgia when a horror movie tries to present a retro experience, but thankfully X is much more the former than the latter.
The plot of X is 1970s-tastic: a group rents out a guest house on a farmer's rural property so they can cash in on the porn boom and film a skin flick on the cheap. Of course, there's something deeply fucked up on the farmer's land and they end up being hunted one-by-one.
And let's not forget the bounty of the season: