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31 Days of Creepy: The Possession

11168615_oriI started out the month talking about some old favorites – classic scary stuff that’s given me chills over the years. Let’s finish up with something newer – the scariest movie I’ve seen in a long time!

The Possession is the story of a 10-year-old girl named Emily who comes across an intriguing old box at a yard sale. We’ve all had an object “speak” to us, I’m sure, in a way that says “take me home.” The box does that to Emily, but it’s not just the sense that she needs to add this battered old thing to her collection of treasures. It’s literally speaking to her… and that’s only the beginning.

Natasha Calis does a terrific job as young Emily, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick are spot-on as her terrified parents. The direction, photography and music add beautiful layers to the mood. A couple of questions remain unanswered at the end, but overall the story is involving, unsettling, and effective… to the point of making you wonder if you’re really hearing whispers in the middle of the night. Thumbs up to this one – my favorite recent scary movie!

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31 Days of Creepy: Chatting with Author Will Swardstrom

71MNzLaFHIL._UX250_Continuing my conversations with author friends about what creeps them out, on this scariest day of the year…

Meet Will Swardstrom, who’s typically a SF writer, but has dipped into the horror realm with the truly creepy Ant Apocalypse and Z Ball.

Book, movie, or TV show… what’s the one moment that absolutely scared the living bejeebers out of you?

When I was in fourth grade, I was invited to a sleepover at a friend’s house. I typically watched things like Star Wars and Eddie Murphy movies as I recall, so when we watched Children of the Corn, it was way out of left field. Being in an unfamiliar house definitely played into it, I think, but that movie…shudders…I still get creeped out thinking about it. What a scary, scary movie.

Tell the truth: would waking up to find a giant bug crawling on your face make you scream? Or would you attempt to make a pet out of it?

I might actually be too scared to even scream at first. I might be paralyzed by fear and revulsion, but the first move would be to bat it away from me and my face. All those legs…now dog-sized? I can’t even. Arachnophobia really got me as a kid, and of course my story Ant Apocalypse is my first attempt at horror. NO THANKS.

For you, who’s the Master of Horror?

For books, I’ll go with Stephen King. Can’t go wrong there. I really am a wuss when it comes to reading or watching much horror, but that dude is such a great storyteller I can get into any of his books no matter what. That said…the two books that scared me the most: the first is Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz. This was one of his books from the early 90’s where he was still going full-on horror/suspense with his books. In the latter years here he’s toned it down and horror is more of a character to his stories, not the entire setting.

But the one book that scared me the most? Hot Zone by Richard Preston (subtitle: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus). This was in the 90’s when Ebola first became a household name and I read that book. The true nature of it truly frightened me.

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever written?

The kitten turns into a zombie scene in my book Ant Apocalypse. For sure. I hated writing it (I’m a cat person, honestly), so I forced myself to do it. Listening to it as an audiobook scared the crap out of me.

Zombie Apocalypse. What’s your weapon of choice?

Can I go with Harry Potter’s Cloak of Invisibility? How about Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet? I would rather just NOT deal with the zombies if I had a choice. However, if I *had* to choose, it would be something that I could use again and again, like a sword or something along those lines where I wouldn’t have to worry about ammunition.

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31 Days of Creepy – Chatting with Author Thomas Robins

61rlT7c956L._UX250_It’s Halloween, horror fans! Scariest day of the year, so I’ve been chatting with a couple of author friends about what creeps them out.

First up: Thomas Robins, author of the popular SF novel Desperate to Escape and the new series The Dragons of Edgewick.

Book, movie, or TV show… what’s the one moment that absolutely scared the living bejeebers out of you?

Alice in Wonderland. In elementary school, our whole school went to an auditorium to watch this film. It terrified me, but I was in the middle of a couple of hundred kids so I couldn’t leave or bury my head in my parents’ arms. I just sat there, horrified for Alice and forced to keep watching. 

Tell the truth: would waking up to find a giant bug crawling on your face make you scream? Or would you attempt to make a pet out of it?

I’d scream like a madman, but probably not because it’s a spider. Things that suddenly wake me up send me into a weird yelling gibberish fit for a minute before I actually wake up. Happens if a fire alarm goes off or a loud clack of thunder comes by. I call it my personal blue screen (from when PCs crash).

For you, who’s the Master of Horror?

Stephen King by reputation. I don’t read or watch straight horror.

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever written?

I’m in the middle of writing my scariest scene, which is likely to be over the top since I don’t read horror. It’s part of a piece I’m writing for The Shapeshifter Chronicles.

Zombie Apocalypse. What’s your weapon of choice?

A paper map. If I can get my family a few hundred miles to my in-laws’ farm, we’d be able to hole up in safety for years.

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31 Days of Creepy – The Outer Limits

TheOuterLimits-Screenshot-oldOne of my clearest memories from my childhood is of coming home from trick-or-treating and finding my dad sitting in the dark, watching THE OUTER LIMITS on our old black-and-white TV. Back then (1964), I thought the show was weird and scary – lots of strange, eerie music. And lots of monsters.

outer_limits_architects_of_fear_9212The show reflects all the sensibilities of that time — fear of alien invasions, fear of atomic weapons, fear of things we can’t control. It’s humorous now that the monster in “The Architects of Fear,” clearly an actor in a bug-eyed rubber suit, was deemed so terrifying that some of the ABC affiliates refused to air the episode, and others blanked out the offensive scenes. Most of the special effects are primitive, and there’s a lot of melodrama lurking throughout (not to mention the female characters — a lot of devoted wives and girlfriends — who do little more than shriek and cower), but if you dig a little deeper and let go of your 21st century mindset, there’s a lot of great, scary storytelling going on. How far do we dare go to prove a point? When do we reach the point of learning too much? Is knowledge worth losing our humanity?

14789946The show was revived in 1995, and there’s some fine storytelling there as well. My particular favorite episode is “Inconstant Moon,” which stars Family Ties‘ Michael Gross as a lonely physics professor who realizes to his horror that the sun has gone nova and he has only a few hours left to live. (Ignore the incorrect description at Amazon; it’s the correct episode.) If you’re looking for something new to stream, both the 1963 original and the 1995 reboot are well worth your time… especially if you watch in the dark!

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31 Days of Creepy – Testament and Threads

Testament1983I talked the other day about how deeply affected I was by the threat of nuclear Armageddon back in the early 1980s – the idea that any day could be our last. The movie industry was very much aware of that situation, because not one but three major films came out in 1983-84 focusing on the theme of all-out nuclear war: the enduring The Day After (which generally gets all the publicity), Testament, and Threads.

THREADS is a very small, intimate story, focusing on the residents of a small town about 90 minutes away from San Francisco – particularly on a mother (Jane Alexander) and her three children. When the unthinkable happens, she has to find a way to keep her family going: keep them fed, keep them safe, find as much normalcy as possible. It’s a heartbreaking story, and Ms. Alexander’s performance is masterful. Unlike The Day After, there are no happy endings here – no miraculous reunions, no closing scenes that insist that “humanity will persevere.” There is no hope for Carol Weatherly and her children – there is only love.

oB1h2CAUvTlnzrUJInahwR0HJBwThe British production THREADS is even more bleak than TESTAMENT (which reinforces my opinion that nobody knows how to do horror like the British). It focuses on two families, one working class and one middle class – but here, the characters aren’t as important as the situation. Everything’s irradiated. There’s no food, no water. Nuclear winter sets in, and the closing scene is truly blood-chilling.

What I generally find most frightening isn’t stories about ghosts or vampires or Michael Myers-type serial killers — it’s stories that make me think, “Man… this could happen to me. It could happen to all of us.” All three of these 1983-84 productions do that, each with a different focus. I’ve picked these two to recommend because they sidestep the (undoubtedly TV network-mandated) sort-of happy ending, the idea that families will be reunited, everything will be rebuilt, and life will go on. TESTAMENT and THREADS are deeply chilling because of their firm focus on things going bad — reminding us that sometimes, when it comes down to it, all you have to turn to is yourself, and the people you love.

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31 Days of Creepy – Ghost Story

ghost story - peter straub - pocket books - apr 1980“What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

Those are the first words in Peter Straub’s classic horror novel, which I read for the first time back in 1980. Back then, Stephen King was my favorite author (and he still is) — but I discovered something new with Straub. Straub digs deeper. Finds out where we really live, what our deepest fears are.

Four old men, friends for many years, meet periodically to tell each other ghost stories. They call themselves the Chowder Society. Their lives are ordinary, more or less – until one of them dies. Then the past rises slowly but surely out of its grave, and the remaining members of the Chowder Society are forced to acknowledge what they did many years ago… and pay the price for doing it.

Straub is a master of his craft. He unfolds his story not in a straightforward manner, but in bits and pieces. Time jumps around. Perspective changes. The whole time, the language is beautiful and evocative.  “Time whittled down to a solid capsule encasing him as he sat helpless in a flying car. Then the texture of the moment changed, time broke and began to flow, and he knew, as passive as he’d ever been in his life, that the car had left the road: everything was happening with unbelievable slowness, almost lazily, and the Morgan was floating.”

A dead girl. Guilty consciences. Making amends for a long-ago mistake. It’s good stuff, beautifully told.

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31 Days of Creepy – A Little Peace and Quiet

logoI bet you’ve been expecting me to talk about THE TWILIGHT ZONE – meaning the original Rod Serling classic. And I will… but right now I’m thinking about the 1985 reboot, in particular part 2 of the first episode. “A Little Peace and Quiet” stars ET’s Melinda Dillon as a harried suburban mom who’s desperate for a break from her noisy, stressful life – and finds it in the form of an odd amulet she unearths in her garden. At first she thinks it’s just a pretty necklace, but when she’s pushed to her limit and screams “SHUT UP!!!!” … that’s exactly what happens. Everyone around her freezes. Time stands still, something that’s at first amusing and useful. But when international tensions reach the breaking point…

4978536391_79140ca6d1This episode sticks with me 30 years after its premiere because the 1980s were a time of incredible stress around the globe. The U.S. and the Soviet Union had amassed a spectacular number of nuclear weapons that might be launched at any time. (“Well, we aren’t that close to anything…” I said to a co-worker. His response? “We’re a couple of miles from the arsenal. If they launch, you can kiss your butt goodbye.” Nope, not the response I’d been hoping for.) So housewife Penny’s dilemma in “Peace and Quiet” resonated with me. She’s got a solution, but it’s a horribly imperfect one, and the final scenes are chilling.

You can find the episode on the DVD set, and on YouTube.