The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Directed by Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow

Starring Vincent Price

3 ½ of 4 Rats with Wings

There are few horror authors who’ve inspired more horror directors and writers than Richard Matheson. Film adaptations of his work include What Dreams May Come (a little sappy for my taste) The Incredible Shrinking Man (an imaginative SF classic about male anxiety in the 50s), and I am Legend (filmed twice, first with Vincent Price in the lead, and some decades later with Will Smith in the starring role). The movie was also adapted as Omega Man starring Charlton Heston (one of director Tim Burton’s favorite films), and The HΩmega Man segment on a Treehouse of Horror episode in which a gang of ghouls try to eat Homer Simpson’s skin.

The version I’m reviewing today is the one starring Vincent Price, and while it’s my favorite of the three, it has either been abused, neglected, or dismissed by most movie hounds. Charlton Heston, Moses himself, watched the film to prepare for The Omega Man and thought The Last Man on Earth to be entirely without redeeming qualities, ineptly made, and far from scary. The author of I am Legend was a big fan of Vincent Price (and had even written some roles for the horror icon) but he thought Price was horribly miscast in the central role. Matheson did the screenplay, but he disavowed the final result and asked to be credited under an assumed name.

Now that that is out of the way, let me say that I must (as is often the case) file a minority report. The Last Man on Earth is an eerie and effective horror film; it is imperfect (the template for the undead would not be perfected until George Romero took up the reigns) but there is enough in the movie to recommend it to casual and hardcore horror fans, and those eager to see Vincent Price playing against type. In fact, aside from his role as Matthew Hopkins in Witchfinder General, Messier Price’s turn as Dr. Robert Morgan must stand as his definitive non-ham role.

There is nothing tongue-in-cheek about the movie’s protagonist. He is a man possessed, married to a strange ritual, which he stubbornly, grudgingly reenacts each day. He spends his days driving his hearse-like Fiat station wagon (the film is shot on-location in Rome, Italy) searching for garlic in abandoned grocery stores and rummaging through old antique shops gathering mirrors to hang up outside of his house to ward off the encroaching hordes of undead. He also moonlights by daylight as a mortician-slash-sanitation worker, gathering up dead bodies in the berth of his hearse and taking them to a burn pit, into which he casts them and then adds a requisite dash of petrol.

At night, Robert Morgan sits down in his house (windows crosshatched with plywood boards) and ignores the taunts of his now deceased-diseased comrade to come outside where the monsters can kill him. Dr. Morgan is content to stay inside, however, listen to jazz music on his swinging hi-fi cabinet model (the movie has a low key modish vibe, despite not being an English production), and reminiscing about days gone by. The scene where he watches old super-8 home movies of his wife and daughter is one of the most quietly moving in the film. The way Vincent Price begins laughing and then breaks into convulsive sobs is unsettling and of a piece with the tone of the film, which is that of fingers tinkling on an off key piano.

We learn in flashback that Doctor Morgan was previously happily married and had a wonderful little daughter, but storm clouds were gathering. He worked in a lab where a strong, new bacillus was rapidly multiplying and killing people whose bodies were then rounded up by troops in cattle trucks and deposited in a massive burn pit (seeing this reminded me of my time in Iraq, which we won’t dwell on right now). There were rumors on the wind that the bacillus was turning people into vampires (hence the burnings rather than traditional burials), but Dr. Morgan, being a good man of science, didn’t give credence to the rumors until their truth hit a little too close to home.

I don’t want to add any spoilers here, so suffice it to say that while the film certainly misses its mark in places, it has a haunting, unsettling ambience that leaves a much stronger impression than the minor miscues here and there. The vampires in Richard Matheson’s novel I am Legend were agile and strong (a la the rage-infected in 28 Days Later), but the shuffling revenants in this movie are weak, slow, and …yes, a bit pathetic, which makes the proceedings even more disturbing rather than anticlimactic. The Vincent Price character is seen killing monsters throughout the film, but it is a thankless chore devoid of any kind of reward aside from earning him another day to dwell within the confines of his house and grow stir-crazy as memories from a bygone, better time continue to flood in. He hones stakes in his lathe, marks the days off on his calendar as a ritual, and then sets about the work of killing like a man using his pricey gun on soup cans down at the local supermarket. The movie is not so much about Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” as it is about the banality of fighting evil in unpaid twelve hour shifts with no overtime.

It’s a common complaint among horror fans (especially the older ones) to hear that newer horror films rely more on gore or over-the-top sado-masochistic torture scenes to gain their effect rather than good old-fashioned atmosphere or suspense. What’s left unsaid in this debate is that another sort of horror film exists, in a separate, smaller, and more disturbing niche…the sad horror film, the film that scares you with the thought of isolation (like the old Twilight Zone episode wherein the poor soul who has the whole world’s books to himself breaks his eyeglasses); it’s the fear of loneliness, or the idea of recognizing that the foe in front of you, while incompetent, is implacable, and your death at its hands is inevitable.

Richard Matheson and Charlton Heston thought the idea of weak, slow monsters undercut the horror inherent in the tale (told three times on-screen, at least), but The Last Man on Earth was a bit of harbinger for the next generation of zombies, who were presented as tragicomic victims of their own hunger, more envious of the living than outright vicious. Dread, in some ways, is an uglier and stronger emotion than fear.

In one of George A. Romero’s more candid moments he admitted, “We are the walking dead.” This of course was to mean that we, as living creatures, are in a state of constant decomposition and are slowly moving toward our own inevitable deaths. Remove the zombies-vampires from the equation and view The Last Man on Earth as a tale about a man coming to grips with his daughter’s and wife’s terminal illnesses and drawn-out deaths and you still have a horror movie with a lot of pathos, grief, and rage. Watching brown, dry leaves play across the windswept backyard where the daughter celebrated her birthday before being claimed by the virus creates goosebumps rather than eliciting fear. Seeing the doctor gain a companion in a small dog and then having the same companion stripped from him produces a bit of a lump in the throat. The Last Man on Earth, ultimately, does not give one the feeling of being in a haunted house, where monsters pop out when the viewer least expects it; the movie instead creates a more gnawing, inchoate feeling. The kind you get when you stand in front of a closed factory or an abandoned house whose windows are boarded and whose front yard is overgrown with grass. It’s a movie about living after your dreams are dead, living life from memory and habit with few expectations for the future, or even any interest in the future. I sympathized with Vincent Price’s weary words, when he half-moaned, half-whispered, “Another day …” in between shifts of slaughtering the undead with stakes.

Joseph Hirsch The (Not-So) Subtle Art of the Horror-Comedy: Or, Reflections on Piñacoladaberg

The comedian David Foster once pointed out that comedy was hard because laughter is an involuntary response. In other words, to make someone laugh, you have to make them do something they don’t necessarily want to do.

Horror is hard for the same reason. We all know the pride certain people take in not being scared, that one friend in the haunted house who yawns when the guy in the hockey mask steps through the clouds of dry ice wielding his chainsaw.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand, then, the special challenges presented by the horror-comedy genre. You must scare people, make them laugh, and somehow maintain a balance between the comedy and horror without either genre’s contribution totally blotting out the other’s effect.

Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead movies walk this line perfectly. The Scream franchise perhaps ironicized this genre a bit too much with its self-referential/postmodern wink-nudge attitude toward the audience. Idyll Hands was a nice try, but the goofiness somehow subsumes the horror, and we’re left with something closer to camp.

My personal genre favorite is Roman Polanski’s Fearless Vampire Killers. The full title is Fearless Vampire Killers; or pardon me, but your Teeth are in my Neck. In some markets the movie is known as Dance of the Vampires (and a stage play/musical based on the movie goes by this name).

Polanski’s artifact is much less well-known than his later output (films like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown), and it was neither a great critical nor commercial success upon release. That said, it straddles the divide between horror and comedy well, mixing pratfalls with frights in a concoction that reminds one of the best pre-talkie comedies and fright fests in a seeming homage from everything to Chaplin’s Tramp to Dryer’s Nosferatu.

That the cast includes the beautiful Sharon Tate murdered by the Manson Family while pregnant with Polanski’s child (not to mention Terry “the Paddington Express Downes,” ex-middleweight boxing champion of the world) gives the film an eeriness and weight that a lot of straight horror movies lack.

The only recently made film I can think of adding to the canon (which is to say my Amazon Video Library) is Club Dread. The movie is an unpretentious and funny gore-fest brought to you by the Broken Lizard comedy troupe, the same guys who bequeathed the world Super Troopers, and (God willing) will be giving us a sequel to that ode to highway patrolmen soon.

Club Dread follows the fortunes of a group of stoners/beach bums who run a resort called “Pleasure Island,” whose jobs consist mainly of serving tourists daiquiris (occasionally laced with ecstasy) and providing all manner of summer fun and entertainment. My favorite bit was a life-sized version of the videogame Pac-Man played in a hedge maze (an obvious homage to The Shining). The maze lends itself to a pretty good slasher scene, as does the rest of the tropical location, filled with aquamarine Lagunas, dense jungles, secluded caves, and thatched cabanas. Think Baywatch (but with a brain) meets Friday the 13th, and you’re in the ballpark.

The movie starts by introducing us to an obvious but good-hearted sendup of Jimmy Buffet named Coconut Pete, who runs the island and welcomes his guests getting off the boat by playing his acoustic guitar and serenading them with songs from his albums with titles like Sea-Shanties and Wet Panties. My favorite number? I could tell ya but I’d have Tequila.

The ultimate Parrot Head himself, Jimmy Buffet, was shown the movie and thought it was so funny that he requested to be able to use a couple of Coconut Pete’s standards on his upcoming tour. No harm, no foul, I guess.

Kevin Heffernan (Rod Farva in Super Troopers) plays a new-age massage guru who studies Eastern medicine and the martial arts; Jay Chandrasekhar is an insufferably pompous quasi-Rastafarian Englishman with dreadlocks that are obviously a wig; Steve Lemme plays Juan, whose Latin Lover persona and accent are of a piece with the rest of the tongue-in-cheek work being done by the other guys.

As a fan of Super Troopers, and of these guys in general, what I noticed was how different their personalities in Club Dread were from the characters they previously played. Take Heffernan, for instance. His character here (Lars) is the polar opposite of his Farva. Farva was obnoxious, dumb, and loud, while Lars is sweet, gentle, and knowledgeable. It’s a reminder that comedy requires as much acting chops as any other performative art form.

Getting to the plot, a killer dressed in what looks like a wooden mask with hair made of palm fibers starts stalking the island, hacking his way with a machete through resort staff members. He stops killing long enough to make it clear that no one else will die provided everyone who works at Pleasure Island does their jobs and keeps their mouths shut. The killer has also disabled all coms on the island and managed to hide all the boats that might allow anyone to flee.

That’s basically it, but (like with all the troupe’s movies) what really makes it work is the easy camaraderie between the cast members and the lines that would-be throwaways but are so absurd that they worm their way into your mind and become part of your vernacular. My favorite line from Super Troopers was “Desperation is a stinky cologne.” Club Dread doesn’t disappoint, with one character asking another (with a straight face, no less), “How many of you knew that he was uncircumcised, and smelled of oranges?”  M. C. Gainey, grizzled character actor extraordinaire (Swamp Thing in Con Air) actually confronts the slasher at one point and delivers an address which for me rivals the concision and beauty of anything FDR ever said. And I quote: “You know, at every party there’s always one asshole who likes to shit in the apple pie. Well, buddy, you just shit in the one apple pie that knows how to shit back.” Put that on a monument somewhere cast in bronze.

The film critic Roger Ebert (R.I.P.) was fond of saying that many times cast and crew talk about how much fun they had making a movie, and yet the results on the screen didn’t translate into a movie that was entertaining. The magic of the Broken Lizard guys is that they seem to have fun working together and somehow translate that into movies that are fun to watch, and re-watch. Their movies are critic-proof, quotable, smart and dumb in equal measure.

When filling out their casts, the Broken Lizard guys also seem to have a knack for picking great actors and getting them to turn in performances totally at odds with the rest of their oeuvre. In Super Troopers, the coup was Brian Cox, whose turn as Hannibal Lecter in Michael Mann’s Man hunter is for me the definitive embodiment of Thomas Harris’s serial killer, notwithstanding the accolades (rightfully) showered on Sir Anthony Hopkins for his performance in Silence of the Lambs.

“Serious” dramatic actors seem to relish the paychecks that come with doing more mainstream fare (in part to finance their more “serious” work) but they also seem to enjoy working at a different speed, and cutting loose (there’s a reason besides a check with a bunch of zeroes that guys like John Turturro and Steve Buscemi keep working with Adam Sandler).

In Club Dread, the revelation is Bill Paxton as the Jimmy Buffet sendup. Known especially for his role as Chet in Weird Science and Private William Hudson in the truly nerve-wracking Aliens, Paxton had a bipolar knack for playing characters who were either gentle and sympathetic or irredeemably obnoxious. He could work in nuances and wrinkles as the character demanded, and always turned in stellar work (even when the film around him wasn’t much to write home about).

His “Coconut Pete,” character in Club Dread is a sort of perma-stoned but mostly harmless beach bum who lords over his island fiefdom like a guy whose grasp of pop culture stopped when Eddie Money was still going platinum. Pete also occasionally flies into a rage (like when he’s trying to communicate his paella recipe to kitchen staff whose grasp of English is nonexistent). Watching him go from mellow to gasket-blown full tantrum mode is the funniest thing in the film.  It’s the kind of go-for-broke, ballsy performance an actor can only turn in when he knows after reading the script that this movie has a better chance of sweeping the Razzies than of getting so much as a Golden Globe nod. It’s a dedicated, hilarious performance that not only eclipses the rest of the movie (which is stocked with memorable, over-the-top performances) but has become for me the signature Bill Paxton performance after his turn as Hudson in Aliens.

Before seeing Club Dread, I’d thought of Paxton as the guy who says, “Game over, man” in Aliens, whose whiny colonial space marine’s grunt managed to transcend the mere gripe it probably was on paper to become more of a plaintive wail for a species that can see its extinction just over the next horizon. Paxton’s delivery of that line was so pitch-perfect that it’s been sampled or mentioned in everything from videogames to Alex Garland’s Gen-X masterpiece novel about another tropical nightmare, The Beach.

If the xenomorph parasitoids from the Aliens franchise ever do come to Earth, or hell, if we end up destroying each other in some game of nuclear brinksmanship gone awry, hopefully I live long enough to get out that classic line one last time. It would be as worthy an epitaph for Homo Sapiens as anything else.

Bill Paxton died before his time, succumbing to a malfunctioning heart valve that was a vestige from a childhood bout of rheumatic fever that damaged his young ticker. R.I.P to Bill Paxton, and if you ever watch Club Dread, enjoy your trip to Piñacoladaberg, and tip one (or smoke one) in memory of Coconut Pete.

Elvira: Mistress of the Dark: A Book Review

Joseph Hirsch

It certainly went under my radar, but Tweeterhead Publishing apparently released a book about Elvira, Mistress of the Dark last year. A lot of other people must have missed the boat as well, since the book is already showing as “Out of Print-Limited Availability” on Amazon. No matter. That should make my copy a collector’s item in short order (not that I’ll be putting it on the market any time soon).

For those who don’t know who Elvira is (what the hell have you been doing with your life?), this bit from the inside flap of the book’s dust jacket should suffice: “Created and portrayed by actress Cassandra Peterson, Elvira went from obscure cult sensation to international icon seemingly overnight after the television debut of Elvira’s Movie Macabre, where she captivated audiences with her funny, flirtatious quips and penchant for the horrific. Since then, Elvira has haunted our collective consciousness as the personification of Halloween, where her ubiquitous presence rightly grants her admission into the pantheon of holiday icons that include Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But Elvira is the shadow side of the holiday heroes: Halloween in one, dark, slinky, sexy package. From the top of her trademark beehive hairdo to the tips of her stiletto heels, this vamp’s waspy waist, long legs and big… personality are at once the things of fantasy and nightmare.”

That’s it in a nutshell. The book itself covers roughly 35 years of Elvira’s professional career as heiress-apparent to the black scepter of Vampira, a gothic scream queen who started her own career on LA’s KHJ-TV in the fifties and later unsuccessfully sued Elvira’s creator Cassandra Peterson for stealing her likeness. Elvira is organized into four sections, First up is Movie Macabre: Creating the Ultimate Horror Movie Hostess. The second section deals with Elvira’s big screen appearances, Elvira’s Double Features: Mistress of the Dark and Haunted Hills. Next up is Calendar Ghoul: A Vamp for all Seasons; lastly comes the Queen of Halloween: Pop Culture Icon…

The book is heavy on images and light on text, and you’ll get no complaints from me about that. It’s the way a good coffee table book should be arranged. This volume is substantial in weight and size, and if you have a back problem (as I do), you might want to set this book on a bed and read it there to avoid the pain of hauling this handsomely-bound volume around (Elvira’s beautiful, but there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to suffer for her).

Moving on now to the actual photo shoots, let’s tackle the good, the bad (or at least the stuff I didn’t like as a matter of personal taste, since there is no such thing as “bad” when the camp value is this high and the kitsch is thicker than elephant grass), and the cool.


I really dug the preliminary sketches that Tweeterhead included in this book, which show the Elvira character’s genesis (a little closer to Morticia Addams in the original conception). Maila Nurmi (the woman behind the Vampira character) based her own TV hostess on the gothic, humorous series of cartoons by Charles Addams that also served as the inspiration for the TV show The Addams Family.

These sketches and drawings reminded me quite a bit of the quirky and dark marginalia that fill out the pages of Burton on Burton, a book about the director of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands (to list just a couple of his credits off the top of my head). To see such artwork mixed in among the photos was a real treat. My personal favorite photo set was the one with Elvira done-up as a concessionaire-usheress in a typical movie palace. The white light of an unseen movie projector breaking through blue fog gives the photos the eerie color palate of a memory, recalling the nostalgia of one’s first visit to the theater to see a horror movie as a child. The mist in the photos pumps from some unseen machine (working overtime to blast volutes of smoke for all it’s worth, as if the set decorator is afraid the production company’s check bounced and the fog machine’s going to get repossessed and the crew will have to settle for dry ice). The look of these photos recalls, for me at least, nothing so much as the movie Fright Night, in which every frame of the film seems suffused with an eerie blue light tinctured with a white iridescence (interesting aside: the character played by Roddy McDowall in Fright Night, a fading UHF-TV host, is an homage to Elvira’s predecessor in the Movie Macabre series, a chap who went by the handle Sinister Seymour). Elvira looks severely cute in her pillbox hat, and the way the tray of Cokes and popcorn presses against her diaphragm causes her cleavage to bunch is a thing of beauty.

About her boobs: the best exhibition of Elvira’s traditional endowments comes in a set in which she’s taking a chainsaw to a pumpkin (or at least implying that’s what she’s about to do). Other sets reveal that Elvira’s legs, while less heralded, are also things of beauty, slim and knife-sharp until reaching the thighs, at which point litheness joins strength and it looks like if she flexed while wearing hose the sheer material over her skin might spontaneously combust.


As mentioned previously, there’s nothing bad in this book, but if I don’t bitch about something people will accuse me of not being discerning enough, so let’s plow through the pretense that anything may in fact be wrong with Elvira.

It sounds like an insult to say that someone looks better in the dark than the light (implying it hides their flaws) but Elvira is born for the night, for reasons that have nothing to do with imperfections to be masked in darkness. That said, the sets that either take place in daylight (or the simulated sunshine of kliegs or whatever they use on-set) just don’t work for me. I don’t want to see Elvira at the beach. The “hippy” set and the Easter Bunny set are also not really my thing, and judging by some of the still photos Ms. Peterson doesn’t really seem to be all that into it, either. That said, your mileage may vary, and the simple fact that we think of Elvira as a night creature probably means that seeing her in such brightly-lit settings will make these pics novel for some. I’m just not one of those.

I also wasn’t a big fan of the “Medusa” set. Elvira with a boa constrictor draped over her shoulders like a mink stole is always a good look, but when someone decided to drape her in snakes, they should have done their homework on the Gorgon and looked at some traditional artwork on the subject. I’ve seen Medusa and her sisters depicted in everything from terracotta to Raphaelite-golden refulgence, but the snakes were never so colorful, and adorning Elvira with rubbery garden snakes that look like candy canes serves no purpose except to mar an otherwise nigh-on perfect book of photos.


For those interested in Elvira’s other endowments (I’m talking about her props and pets, not her breasts or her legs), there’s some very cool info about how Elvira managed to acquire the old couch that had passed from one host to another at Movie Macabre, as well as an anecdote about how she first laid hands on the oft-mentioned-but-initially-never-seen Macabre Mobile when it came time to shoot the Mistress of the Dark movie. There’s also a funny caption about her interactions with “Gonk,” the vicious little poodle played by four different stage dogs in the film.

Elvira can describe the accoutrements of her world better than I can. From the book:

The World’s Most Expensive Sofa: Elvira sitting on her velvet sofa surrounded by candelabra has become a classic. The sofa was a prop that KHJ-TV rented for Elvira’s Movie Macabre. I often joke that it’s one of the most expensive couches in the world because KHJ-TV, not having much faith in the longevity of the show, rented it from a prop house for many years instead of just buying it outright. At a cost of $150 a week over seven years, it became a damned expensive piece of furniture! I was luckier and purchased it from them for $350 when the show ended. I’ve hauled it around from storage unit to storage unit since then, using it whenever possible for various gigs. The original upholstery was damaged during the taping of the reality show The Search for the Next Elvira and had to be recovered, but other than that, it’s the same old couch I’ve used since the beginning of my career. I’m pretty sure that the three candelabra that were behind the sofa on my original show are the same ones that were used on The Vampira Show on KHJ-TV in 1956. The sofa and candelabra now reside in the Hollywood Museum in Hollywood, California (221) As for the location of the Macabre Mobile, it is also now in the Hollywood Museum, sandwiched between myriad other memorabilia items totaling somewhere in the neighborhood of ten-thousand curios. It’s definitely worth the trip there if I ever get back to California. Maybe if I strike it rich I can create my own version of the car. I’ll pay someone to customize a ’59 Thunderbird and trick it out with a chain steering wheel with a brushed chrome pentagram lodged in the center, as well as a Misfits-looking skull at the end of the shifting stick and a vampire bat hood ornament as the pièce de résistance. Don’t hold dreaming against a man…

…In conclusion, if you’re a fan of Elvira and you’ve got thirty to fifty bucks to shell out, now would probably be an ideal time to get your hands on what’s sure to become a collector’s item in the future. Elvira is likely to skyrocket in price as time goes on. It’s the kind of book that never gets old and can be revisited on occasion and with friends, obviously with greatest frequency around Halloween.

A perfect **** out of a possible **** rats with wings.

Work Cited

Peterson, Cassandra. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Tweeterhead Publishing, 2016.

Joseph Hirsch's Reviews

When the Undead Finally Die: A Eulogy for George A. Romero

I was planning to write a piece on Elvira, Mistress of the Dark’s new series, 13 Nights of Elvira, and I’ll eventually get around to it, but sometimes plans change. This morning my younger brother woke me up with the words, “Dude, George Romero died.”

I’m used to hearing about the deaths of older people, and like anyone else with twenty-four-hour access to news, I’m pretty much inured to catastrophe and tragedy. But still, I feel like I owe the man more than the hollow de rigeur eulogy of the type that gets bandied about in aftermath of any artist’s death.

I’m sure I saw Night of the Living Dead as a young boy, although the exact moment or occasion is a little hard to pin down. The film is such a large part of American pop culture, a moment frozen in time like the moon-landing, that trying to recall my first encounter with the movie would be pointless.

The last time I saw Night was on the revival circuit, in one of those art deco movie palaces hipsters and artsy types frequent, where drinks are served, costumes are worn, and trivia questions are tossed out to the crowd and good answers are rewarded with prizes and bad guesses with jeers and laughter. I don’t begrudge these people their good time, but I prefer to see horror movies alone, in the dark, and at home. The passage of years has given Night of the Living Dead the eerie quality of something that exists out of time, an artifact whose grainy images achieve haunting meaning that transcends the movie’s storyline. It’s the kind of the thing you can watch with the sound off and still get the full, terrifying effect, like an old German expressionist film.

Sitting in that theater the audio track might as well have been off, since the kids were talking, making jokes, and riffing as if Night of the Living Dead wasn’t a cultural milestone but was just another shoestring exploitation-cheapie made to produce white noise in the background while teenagers necked at the drive-in theater. Something happened though, as the carnage on-screen unfolded. It happened at that moment when the teenaged couple who’ve been in the basement with the other living hostages in the farmhouse make their run for the truck to escape the shuffling legion of zombies. The male half of the couple makes the mistake of putting his torch too close to the gas tank (as I remember it) and the car explodes, killing him and his girlfriend instantly.

Shortly thereafter, the zombies start munching, and the kids in the crowd stopped laughing, and they remained silent until after the last human to fight off the zombie hoard sticks his head up out of a window of the farmhouse in the morning to announce that he’s still alive, only to catch a bullet in his head from another living man who mistakes him for the undead.

People clapped when the houselights came on, as well they should have. It takes talent to make a good movie. It takes even more skill to make a good one on a small budget. A certain genius is required to make a low-budget movie that, fifty years on, still retains its ability to shock and horrify a generation whose hearts are callused by an internet-induced ennui that allows them to leave the cruelest joke in the comments section of an online video in which someone gets decapitated by a train or plunges to his death from the balcony of a high-rise building.

My personal favorite film Romero made was Martin, another incredibly low-budget film that transcends its meager production values to say something poignant about adolescence, sexual alienation, and even the deindustrialization of the Heartland. That sounds like a lot to get out of a vampire movie made for less than the price of your average luxury automobile in 2017, but it’s all there on-screen.

The music (composed by frequent Romero collaborator Donald Rubenstein, brother of producer Richard Rubenstein) is a thing of beauty to behold. The score is so memorable in fact that, upon hearing of Romero’s death, this was the first thing I reached for online.

I said that I can’t remember the first time I saw Night of the Living Dead, which is true, but I can remember the first time I saw the film’s nominal sequel, Dawn of the Dead. I was about twelve or thirteen years old, and it was Halloween. My mother went to the video store (way in the olden times before there were DVDs) and came back with a handful of what she said were “cheesy horror movies.”

Comedy Central was already around at that point (though it may have been known as The Comedy Channel), and Mystery Science Theater Three-Thousand had given me the penchant for kitschy, low-budget movies that me and my friends would savage as wittily as we could at that age. I popped in Dawn of the Dead and prepared to laugh.

The movie appeared to be low-budget, but there was something about the performances that was graver and more serious than I was used to seeing in cheap horror movies populated by bad actors. Dawn had the unpretentious but immediate quality of a documentary. These people were taking their roles seriously, and they seemed like fully-fleshed out characters, not nameless and brainless ciphers for some guy in a hockey mask to hack or some zombie in pancake makeup to devour. By the time the film segued to the brutal tableaux in the housing project and the gore started flowing in the ghetto, the smile had been smacked off my face just as assuredly as Night had finally made that theater filled with kids stop laughing. I was flying in that helicopter right alongside Fran, Peter, Roger, and Stephen. When the resilient human foursome found themselves trapped in a mall it dawned on me (no pun intended) that I wasn’t seeing a horror movie as I had understood the concept up to that point. This was a work of speculative genius, not Science Fiction’s extrapolation but rather fantasy’s limitless imaginative grist.

George A. Romero did indeed create a satire of consumerism run amok, and he made the kind of horror film that is cerebral enough to entice mirthless professors to write studies to suck the fun out of the zombie phenomenon, but he had also created a universe, as much as George Lucas did with Star Wars or J.R.R. Tolkien did with his Lord of the Rings books.

There are countless movies, video games, comic books, role-playing games, musical groups, toys, models, and reams of fiction of varying quality that wouldn’t exist without George A. Romero. Saying zombies existed before Romero is like saying boxing existed before Muhammad Ali. It’s technically true, but the point is moot. George Romero struck some sort of taproot dealing with our fears relating to death, ageing, race, class, and militarism, and he took so much joy in what he was doing and had so much talent and native genius that (and this is important), you don’t have to think about any of those things when you’re watching his movies if you don’t want to. They’re brilliant, but they’re also gross and terrifying and funny. They speak to a primal need and fear that cuts across all cultural borders. Dawn of the Dead works as well in Japan as it does in Croatia. Violence is unfortunately a universal language, but fortunately so is the art made from violence that we call horror.

I refused to see the remake of Dawn of the Dead, despite the opinion of some people I respect very much who assure me the movie is good. I’m sure it is, but now that Romero is passed you have as much chance of getting me to see the thing as you do to get an Amish man to surf the net for porn. It ain’t happening, for the simple fact that Romero, for lack of a better word, got screwed by the film industry that constantly thwarted his own efforts while lifting his ideas without giving him the credit he deserved.

The screwing of Romero started early in his career. After paying his dues as a gofer on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (which he said was a sterile and boring chore), Romero would matriculate at Carnegie-Melon, and then worked on the set of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood (which was filmed in and around Pittsburgh). One memorable vignette he shot featured Mr. Rogers getting a tonsillectomy. I’m sorry to say I haven’t seen this bit.

Romero then founded his own film company, which made commercials. He shot Night of the Living Dead for peanuts, with the help of friends, and with no small surfeit of dedication to the project (sometimes sleeping on-location). The film was originally called Night of the Flesh Eaters, but another film with a similar title was being distributed around the same time, and Romero, fearing a lawsuit, changed the title. He forgot, however, to change the title of the copyright, which was a mistake that cost him anywhere from fifty million to one-hundred million dollars. For a while Night of the Living Dead was the most successful independent film ever made. For all I know it may still be when you adjust for inflation. The movie entered the public domain and even after the rights were reclaimed, pirated copies abounded. George Romero was deprived the lucre from his hard efforts, which could have provided him with the grubstake to set up shop in his own version of Skywalker Ranch (maybe in some sort of neo-Gothic Alcazar with spooky battlements and mossy ramparts).

That’s another tragedy of the Romero saga that occurs to me now, that if he hadn’t been screwed out of the money that would have given him true independence, he might have also gotten creative control of his career and been able to venture in other directions, rather than doing respectable fare that wasn’t bad but had more of a journeyman than an auteur feel to it (Monkeyshines, Creep Show).

Something that a lot of people don’t know about Romero is that even though he was most assuredly a horror buff (and a welcome and generous presence at any horror convention) and even though he knew the zombies were his bread and butter, the man was an artist with a lot of other facets and interests that the studios never gave him the chance to show.

His favorite movie was Michael Powell’s Tales of Hoffman, which hints at a sophistication and whimsy that some might not expect in a man known for mostly making films about flesh-eating monsters.

Romero’s few non-horror forays range from the true stinkers (There’s always Vanilla) to the brilliantly subversive Knightriders, featuring a youngish Ed Harris as a brave modern-day knight who leads his merry troupe of motorcycle-based jousters across the countryside from renaissance fair to fair, in quest of some ephemeral dragon to slay, or something; it’s not exactly clear what Harris’s motivation in the film is, but it’s an-always fascinating watch and a somewhat poignant reminder that Romero had the ability to work at a lot of different speeds, even if the studio system didn’t want to acknowledge it and some of his fans might not even be aware of it. I don’t want to make this eulogy too much about me, but since describing Romero’s influence on my work ultimately reflects back on the man himself, it should be noted that my book Flash Blood was in large part inspired by the mood, tone, and texture that so many of Romero’s best films have, that indescribable aura of the Alleghany Valley, the feeling evoked by the crumbling granitic ruins of Braddock or the autumnal chill of Monroeville, Pennsylvania- that intertwining of the creepy and the exciting that childhood Halloweens seem to contain (and whose residue still lingers even as we get older and stop believing in the monsters of the screen, after the real ones of the world start to command our attention). Pittsburgh gets a bad rap, but the drive there elicits a strange and not entirely unpleasant feeling of spooky and ancient spirits roaming the treed hills (a bit similar to the sensation one gets in upstate New York around Poughkeepsie in the Hudson Valley famed for the Headless Horseman lore).

This feeling, like all the important ones, is hard to describe in words (though I tried). It’s something I attempted to replicate in my own contribution to the “Pittsburgh Gothic” canon (if such a thing can be said to exist). This haunted feeling is something that George Romero didn’t so much create as vividly repurpose for twentieth century America, in the same way that Bram Stoker did something similar for fin-de-siècle Europe. Romero imbued his stomping grounds in Pennsylvania surrounded by the Appalachians with a mythic gravity similar to what Stoker did for Transylvania and the shrouded ranges of the Carpathians.

Everything dies and everyone knows that, but if we can find a new way to restate this obvious truth, sometimes the work we create outlives us. I think the first two Dead films (and arguably some of the others) are going to be with us for as long as our species both flees from death and is driven to play with it (like the humans did in the mall in Dawn of the Dead, until they were done in by their own hubris and that of other humans).

As to the existence of an afterlife, I have no insight into that. I only know that if there’s any justice in the world, George A. Romero is being carried on a soft canopy bed to heaven or hell (whichever he prefers, for the company or for the weather).

The next time The Walking Dead comes TV on or a new Resident Evil flick hits theaters, I’ll make sure to skip it and watch Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead.

R.I.P. George A. Romero.
Brides of Dracula

Directed by Terence Fisher

Starring Peter Cushing and Yvonne Monlaur

Rating: *** of a possible **** Rats with Wings

Years ago, I remember reading Roger Ebert’s review of Francis Coppola’s operatic, over-the-top adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The late critic conceded that the film was good but not great, adding that he eventually stopped worrying about plot holes and started to enjoy the movie more for its atmosphere, sets, costumes, and mood.

This sums my general attitude to horror movies of the late fifties and early 60s, especially everything in the Hammer canon. I put one of these films on and the critical part of my brain sort of shuts down and I soak up the ambiance, the mood the film conjures. For me, the story is less important than the rich technicolor matte paintings of scenery, the plangent striking of an offkey piano, or the dirge of a pipe organ playing in the background as Peter Cushing brandishes a crucifix at some British ham wearing prosthetic fangs and too much pancake makeup.

The Brides of Dracula features some genuinely memorable and creepy scenes, especially in the first act. A climax wherein a windmill whose blades are twisted into the shape of a makeshift crucifix is worthy of vintage German expressionist cinema.

The plot, in brief: A truly stunning ingenue played by Yvonne Monlaur (with sensuous, Sophia Lauren-esque lips) arrives in Transylvania to take up a teaching position at an all-girl’s school. The coach bearing her stops at an inn at the foot of a castle and then abandons her, leaving the young doe-eyed girl alone at a tavern. At this point I found my eyes wandering, away from the beautiful young woman and instead admiring the inside of the tavern with the appraising eye of an interior decorator. I was soaking up the wainscoting, the wattle-and-daub walls, the cloves of garlic dangling like bunched grapes from the half-timbered roof-beams, etc.

My awe for the little Teutonic details littering the pub (tchotchkes like beer steins and old advertising placards) was interrupted by the arrival through the tavern doors of the baroness who calls the castle on the hill home. This character, played by Martita Hunt, has the kind of screen presence that makes one curious about the woman behind the role and sends them off to the computer to scour the internet for more info. Fortunately for me, though, I was already familiar with her from a recent Bram Stoker biography about which I have mixed feelings.

The Stoker book was good for at least something, though, as in its pages it’s revealed that Madame Hunt was actually connected to Stoker through a couple of degrees (if that) of separation. She performed as part of a repertory theater in London and Liverpool where she at some point crossed paths with the lovely soprano Countess Ward, also a friend of the legendary stage actor Henry Irving, in whose employ Herr Stoker worked for many years as theater director. Returning to the film, the old baroness shares a quick tokay with the young girl and then invites her to her castle. The girl agrees, and inside of the castle the mood of dread ratchets up a few notches. We are introduced to the lone servant in the otherwise empty mansion, an older woman whose visage is even a bit crueler than that of the old countess. Mention is made of a son who is perhaps mad (brain chewed by the busy spirochetes of tertiary syphilis, maybe). A truly creepy and toxically oedipal dynamic appears to be at work between mom and son. When we finally see the bizarre lad, he calls the baroness “Mother” with an insinuating lilt that reminds me more than a bit of Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Hitchcock’s Psycho.

It may perhaps seem ridiculous to worry about divulging spoilers in a movie that’s more than half a century old, but in the spirit of not wanting to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I’ll try not to give out too many more details. Suffice it to say that the film is watchable for the most part, and intermittently crackles with true potential in a few scenes. One standout is a truly unsettling moment when the aforementioned-house servant (played by Freda Jackson) encourages a recently-deceased-and-now-undead vampire to claw her way through her coffin and the freshly-packed earth where she is buried. The woman cackles as the undead girl scrapes through the church’s hallowed ground, and my skin crawled as I watched the scene unfold. I imagine the experience was even more unsettling for anyone who saw it in the movie palace when it came out, all those years before our collective nerves were desensitized by torture-porn flicks like Saw or Hostel.

The genius, veteran character actor Miles Malleson leavens the proceedings with some much-welcome comic relief, as a quack doctor who adds all kinds of nostrums to a kind of massive soup in which he dunks his head in order to cure himself of bronchitis. He’s a lovable gregarious drunk whose scenery-chewing probably caused everyone involved to break character and burst out laughing once or twice.

The weakest link in the whole affair is ironically the man who forms the backbone of so many other Hammer-related films, Peter Cushing.

The character of Van Helsing, in his best incarnations, magnificently straddles that fine line between medical curiosity and recklessness (stopping short of where Victor Frankenstein went), serving as a kind of literal instantiation of the tensions between the Enlightenment and Romantic movements. It’s important to remember that the time in which Dracula was written (and in which Brides of Dracula is set) is a moment where humans (thanks in part to Freud) started to truly recognize the mind as separate from the literal brain, and to discard some ugly forms of pseudoscience (like leeching, the theory of phlogiston, and a host of other unpleasant relics of Galenic medicine left over from the Medieval era). The idea that God might find himself dwarfed by the next technological innovation, or that we might get close enough to him to at least spit in his eye, was also a thought brighter minds were forced to entertain, and as a form of spiritual rebellion a lot of people (especially artists) went back to a taproot of romanticism and the gothic as a kind of defense mechanism against whatever might come next after the telegraph and the steam engine. (What hath God wrought, indeed). I thought it was interesting that when Van Helsing’s credentials were being reeled off in the movie, he turned out to be a doctor of philosophy in addition to brandishing a bunch of other bona fides. That said, as played by Cushing here he is a little bit too much a creature of the mind, and behaves a tad staid and intellectually for my tastes (more like Sherlock Holmes than the robust iterations of Van Helsing we’ve been spoiled with in other movies). He’s also hard to root for since he proves to be something of a milquetoast throughout most of the movie, having the cross slapped out of his limp wrist multiple times, and getting outmaneuvered by vampire bats dangling on thin fishing line that move with all the fluidity and grace of flying saucers in an Edward D. Wood Junior production.

That one misstep aside, though, the film is well worth an hour and a half of your time, and is a perfectly tasteful, stately little production that freely appropriates from Stoker’s timeless work. As regards the staples of all Hammer Films (boobs and blood, as one reviewer put it), there is not too much bodice-ripping or Carmilla-esque lesbian undercurrents, though the lead is a heavenly enough creature, as mentioned at the beginning of this review. A couple of the vampire’s succubae are easy enough on the eyes, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there is not enough corset-cinched cleavage for this one to keep the attention of a Russ Meyer fan for more than a couple of minutes. The lone staking, I remember being in the movie, yields only perhaps a pint’s worth of that bright red blood that FX man Tom Savini once decried as looking like melted red crayon.

The movie is too scary for little kids, too restrained for hardcore gore hounds, but perfect for those who like their horror heavy on the atmosphere, with as much attention paid to costumes and sets as performances. Recommended.


Crime Bites and So Do I is a police procedural with a supernatural twist. The writing style of the novel is short chapters, which is a style I have really enjoyed in the past, so this is not unfamiliar territory for me. The writing is clean and easy to read. Alexis is the primary protagonist, she is the lead detective on a case of serial murders where the victims are bled dry. She had previously been the lead on a series of similar cold case murders, so the current case is turned over to her. As the case progresses it appears the murders are becoming more and more personal and intended to get her attention. Interwoven in the tale is the supernatural twist of vampires and the next thing you know she is partnered with a vamp and the human population is suddenly faced with the fact that vampires exist. Of course there is much more going on, but this cannot be expounded upon without spoilers and I will not go there. Crime Bites and So Do I has a wonderful premise and a great tale to tell, however, for me it felt a bit flat. The world building, at times, was not quite believable for me, nor are the characters' reactions to this sudden fantastical change in their reality. I was having a hard time putting my thoughts into words when I read a post that described how a story could be underwritten. This turned on a light bulb for me - that is what is missing. This story came off like Dragnet's Joe Friday's request for just the facts and in my opinion a little more fleshing out could have made this a much more interesting read. As it stands, it is not a bad read, it is just not remarkable when the potential is there. This book was received from the author with a request for my honest review without any compensation whatsoever, other than the joy of reading a new book.
As someone who has difficulty imagining what pleasure a couple could get out of one of them sinking his or her teeth into the other’s carotid artery... ugh... I can’t pretend to know anything about the very popular vampire genre, so this one was a curiosity read. A “vampire police procedural,” really? As happening to have a daughter who is a fledgling writer, I can hardly wait until she gets busy and pens her first serious novel, in a genre she claims to be inventing under the rubric of “police procedural romance!” O-ka-a-ay... “You have the right to remain silent until I rip off your bodice, darling...” I would rather not say much about what goes on under the covers in, or between the covers of, “Crime Bites And So Do I” for fear of spoilers, since its plot, at mere novella length, nonetheless has enough twistings and turnings to put a snake on Percocet, so let’s just put it like this. What if you lived in a culture that legally recognized the existence of vampires, and got a call to jury duty on a vampire murder trial, one of the court’s charges being to ascertain whether vampires have normal human civil rights? It’s... well, it’s... complicated, to say the least. If that’s not complicated enough, what if you were a cop involved in the case, plagued by a deep uncertainty about whether you might actually be a vampire yourself? Withal, a fascinatingly ingenious read, only marred, alas, by bad, perhaps even non-existent, proofing and editing. Typos, wrong or misspelled words, confusing POV switches, what look like rookie mistakes, so, still curious, I checked a little further. This one was written and self-published in 2013. Another one, “Condemned By A Vampire” published this year by Caliburn Press, was well-edited and clean; I suppose we live and learn. This one, though, is to good to leave languishing, IMO. If I were the author, presuming that she still owns the rights, I would call it back in, clean it up and republish it as a second edition. Note: I was given this book for free for an honest review.............Garman Lord
I’m always up for a good vampire story. You can do a lot with vampires. There seems to be an endless mythology from which you can draw. When done right, there isn’t anything as mysterious, seductive, or scary as monsters that live in the dark and survive on human blood. A personal favorite would have to be Salem’s Lot, by Stephen King. He got the tone just right on that one. It’s a classic now, and rightfully so. Justin Cronin’s The Passage also worked for me in a big way. I’m not a huge fan of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, though; I would argue they get too bogged down with unnecessary period details. Just get to the killing please, Anne. The point is, vampire fiction is everywhere, and everyone has their own tastes. As a reader, you can pick and choose how you like your vampires and find almost endless stories about their escapades. In Jodie Pierce’s Crime Bites and So Do I, we get a story about a vampire on trial for murder, which boasts a lot of potential. This is a fascinating premise. Would a vampire receive the same rights as a human being? How would the court adapt to a vampire trial? How would a death penalty be staged to truly kill one? Unfortunately, this novel is plagued with grammatical errors and an uneven tone that constantly made it difficult for me to be truly engaged with the story. THE STORY: (CONTAINS SPOILERS) The plot centers on Alexis Fleece, a Cleveland Detective investigating several vampire-related murders. This was a little confusing for me, mainly due to the abrupt shift in narration from first-person to third-person without any kind of explanation or chapter break. Fleece is eventually partnered with a vampire detective, Skender, and the two work together to bring a female vampire to trial for the murders. Again, the tone was all over the place. Were vampires a known part of society, like in True Blood? Or did they come out of the woodwork just as Fleece discovered them? When the story focuses on the vampire trial the novel seems to gain its footing. I would have enjoyed seeing more of this. Having a vampire on trial for murder should have been Pierce’s focal point. You could do a lot with this, and I think Pierce does her best when using her own ideas. Bringing a monk-designed dunk-tank filled with holy water to use as the death penalty is a great bit; I loved that. The potential is here, and I hope the author takes this book back to the drawing board and sharpens her tools to cater to core of the story. It’s a sculpture; more wood needs to be chipped away to bring out the intended design. THE STYLE: This is another independent work. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I, too, am an independent novelist. As an independent novelist, you have to let someone proofread your manuscript. I’ve made the same mistakes, thinking I could do it all myself. Let as many people as possible read it before you publish it. Nothing rips me out of a story more than simple spelling and grammatical errors. Most of them in this book could have been corrected using Spellcheck. I’m no Ernest Hemmingway, but I do consider myself an above-average wordsmith. I love when the words come together right, and I get off on it in a major way. It’s a lot like being a chef, I think; you add the right ingredients, at the right time, to create something scrumptious. Pierce has the discipline to craft a novel, which is not something a lot of people can do, but this ultimately reads like a rough draft. FINAL IMPRESSION: There is an enjoyable story here, but you can’t get off the firing range without someone verifying that your weapon is clear of ammo (to use a bit of a military analogy). You need someone to check that baby, make sure you’re G2G (good to go). As independent writers, we all make these mistakes. Fortunately, they can be corrected. I look forward to seeing what else Jodie Pierce can do…
Crime Bites and So Do I is a police procedural with a supernatural twist. The writing style of the novel is short chapters, which is a style I have really enjoyed in the past, so this is not unfamiliar territory for me. The writing is clean and easy to read. Alexis is the primary protagonist, she is the lead detective on a case of serial murders where the victims are bled dry. She had previously been the lead on a series of similar cold case murders, so the current case is turned over to her. As the case progresses it appears the murders are becoming more and more personal and intended to get her attention. Interwoven in the tale is the supernatural twist of vampires and the next thing you know she is partnered with a vamp and the human population is suddenly faced with the fact that vampires exist. Of course there is much more going on, but this cannot be expounded upon without spoilers and I will not go there. Crime Bites and So Do I has a wonderful premise and a great tale to tell, however, for me it felt a bit flat. The world building, at times, was not quite believable for me, nor are the characters' reactions to this sudden fantastical change in their reality. I was having a hard time putting my thoughts into words when I read a post that described how a story could be underwritten. This turned on a light bulb for me - that is what is missing. This story came off like Dragnet's Joe Friday's request for just the facts and in my opinion a little more fleshing out could have made this a much more interesting read. As it stands, it is not a bad read, it is just not remarkable when the potential is there. This book was received from the author with a request for my honest review without any compensation whatsoever, other than the joy of reading a new book.


Reviewed by Tracy A.

In a very dark, creepy and scary tale, Sullen Falls by author Frank Julius Palumbo is certainly a tale that most readers would not tackle after dark. It would be safer to read it at high noon, in your room, with all the lights blazing! Follow the story of the inhabitants of Sullen Falls, a small secluded town with a dark history. Unbeknownst to those who live there, an evil and malevolent force lurks beneath them, one that is ready to wreak havoc at any moment. Seth is a young man who has struggled to find himself since leaving the monastery in town five years ago. He finds himself coming home, feeling drawn by an unusual comet. He realizes the great threat of the evil force, and he's determined to protect Sullen Falls, especially his former love, Sofia. Joined by a family with teenaged children, the Coughlins, Seth and Sofia must do their best to defeat a force they don't quite understand in order to save as many as possible. Will they be successful? You'll need to read this book to find out! 

I so enjoyed Sullen Falls. Author Frank Julius Palumbo has done an incredible job in creating characters that his readers will relate to, connect with, and truly come to care about, thinking of them long after the book is finished. If that isn't a hallmark of a great author, I'm not sure what is. And his dark and twisting tale is simply horror at its best. Any reader who loves a fantastically written scary tale should absolutely read this book. I highly recommend it, and look forward to reading more from the very talented author, Frank Julius Palumbo, as soon as I possibly can! 

By James Hockley on August 24, 2016Format: Kindle Edition.

If I had to pigeon-hole this, where would I place it? Fantasy horror probably. It’s fantastic and it’s horrible! Perfect. With an early caveat that this book is definitely certificate 18, I will declare my hand; I really enjoyed it. It was a book that I wanted to keep on reading, and that really is the key. Perhaps a bit much in places, and lacking some depth in others, but overall this is a cracking read simply because of the pace, imagination, and the simple gory horror. Not a book I will forget (or be allowed to forget) in a while. 

Set in modern-day America, a small town on a lake somewhere out of the way – the kind of quiet town that could easily be forgotten – the opening to this book was quite sedate and a touch perplexing. Being reasonably well-versed in a range of fantasy, I didn’t know where it was going, but it didn’t take too long to find out. The first couple of chapters are a bit slow and jump POV a lot (which the whole book does), but it doesn’t take long to get going. And when it does, it doesn’t let up until the finale. 

The book is written in multiple third-person, and we hop between characters frequently and freely; dipping into both good guys and bad. POV (and particularly this kind of POV) has been on my mind recently, and though I suspect some people will find it a bit "distant" or "fleeting", I really liked it. We spend enough time with key characters to get to know them, and although I wouldn’t say we really get intimate with anyone in particular (we get closest to Seth certainly), I don’t really care about that. This is about the troubling events at Sullen Falls, and those events are well portrayed. 

In a sense then, this is not a book to become "absorbed" in – I was never so hooked to a character that I needed to find out what happened to them (and indeed, the fates of many characters are rather pre-ordained!) However, regardless of this, it is a book I was hungry to carry on reading, and I found myself picking it up just about anywhere to dip into events. I would call that a success. 

So – were there any bits that didn’t work so well for me? Well maybe a few, but if the premise, the raw horror & the pace of this sound appealing, then the negatives are really rather elementary. But for the record, here are some of the things that I recall. 

In parts of the novel (particularly early on) there are some quite protracted areas of pure physical description – scenery and surroundings painted in a thousand words. This was particularly frustrating in the opening chapter or two (when I didn’t have sight of the story), but once I was invested, I just found myself scanning any such areas. 

As mentioned above, the human aspect is probably at the shallower end of the spectrum. This certainly is not saying that the human element is absent – it is absolutely about humanity, its horrors, and equally, the finer aspects of the human condition – but I could certainly point to books where we get to "know" the key protagonists better. I personally don’t think this is a problem, but I think it’s worth calling out in my review. 

Finally, and probably really the only major aspect that I would call out as ‘off-putting’ to me personally, is the level of ... muchness. In places, the detail might just be a bit too heavy for my liking – too much gore; too much disturbing sexual acts (yes, fornication is a big part of this book for good reason); and too much general unspeakableness. But this is a horror fantasy book I hear you cry! And yes, I do agree with that. But I am not calling out the inclusion of such detail as a problem; rather the repetition. Let me try and explain. 

Gore, disturbing fornication, and general atrocities are required in this book; and they add real effect, too. However, by the end of the novel, we know the sorts of things that are going on. And yet we are drawn through the eyes of the protagonists to take in the details once more. I don’t know about you, but I’d probably be averting my eyes by this point of the adventure! And the same goes as a reader. In places, these horrors add real punch to the book, but in others ... it almost feels a bit voyeuristic... A preference thing no doubt, but when I found myself scrunching up my face in public, it made me wonder. 

But this really is a small point. This is a good fast paced read for anyone into fantasy horror books. Definitely at the stronger end of the spectrum (though I am amateur in this genre!), but thoroughly enjoyable with good action, interesting perspectives, and a vivid imagination! 

By VM Sang on September 1, 2016Format: Kindle EditionSullen Falls 
by Frank Julius Palumbo 

When I started reading this book I thought I was not going to enjoy it. The characters introduced in the first few chapters were extremely unpleasant. There was the priest who had lost his faith, the town gossip, the jealous husband, the unfaithful wife, the randy young man, the not-too bright young man. Every unpleasant character you find in a small town was there. There was not much action either. 

Then I got past that and met Seth and his dog. They had been drawn to this small town for a reason, but did not know what it was. They soon found out. 

I don't want to say too much about the actual plot as it would spoil it. Suffice it to say that once past the slow beginning, the reader is on a roller coaster ride with plenty of action for anyone. 

I don't usually read this kind of book, nor do I watch horror movies, but I found myself gripped, wanting to know what happens next and looking forward to next time I could pick it up whenever I had to stop reading. 

All in all, it is a good story, if not completely original. The idea of a long-held- captive evil escaping, or coming to influence the world is not new. It had been done by Terry Goodkind and Tolkein to mention just two, however, Mr Palumbo brings excitement and horror in a new way. 

There is just one thing that I would like to mention, and that is that on occasion Mr Palumbo gets words wrong. For example, he has his characters 'transversing' the forest instead of 'traversing' it. There were one or two other such mistakes that should have been picked up by his editors. 

By Sarah Davies on September 16, 2016Format: Kindle EditionI was given a free copy for an honest review. 

Sullen Falls is a dark and very descriptive horror. With a great mix of characters. 

You have Wilbur the bit slow local dimwit who helps run the campsite, but he doesn't go in the woods on the outskirts of the campsite as there are evil living being in there!! 

Father Flynn the alcoholic priest who has lost his way and faith in god and is desperate for a sign!! 

Dennis the supermarket shop boy who doesn't have a good thing to say about anyone. 

And the town gossip who likes nothing better than to tell her friends what's going on. 

They are all visited, or have outer body experiences, on the same night, is this the start of the "Second Coming?" 

And then you have Seth, who used to live in the monastery until five years previous he disappeared in the dead of night not to be seen again. 

Can Seth help save the people of Sullen Falls from the second coming and does he have anyone who can help? 

Well written, very descriptive story with a great mix of characters which keep you intrigued. Re 

By Ramona Plant on August 12, 2016Format: PaperbackI absolutely LOVED this book!!!! 

The book starts of slowly, providing a lot of information that you don't know what to do with yet. The story soon gains in speed and soon you are captivated by this roller coaster ride! Frank is an excellent author that knows his craft well. He captivates you in this story and as aweful as it seems at times, it is difficult to stop reading. More than once was I at the edge of my seat! The pace is just perfect, keeping you reading without feeling rushed or thinking "I hope something happens soon". I think that in itself is a skill not all authors have and take time to develop. 

Frank created a unique plot and some great characters that really bring this story home. The plot has some well placed twists that you didn't see coming. His heros and heroines are well suited for this with a real feel to them. 

I can not wait to read more from this author and he will definitely be added to my read list in the future! 

ReviewSullen FallsFrank Julius Palumbo 
Dark Dragon Publishing 
July, 2016 
Reviewed by Jess Landry 

Seth left Sullen Falls monastery five years ago in search of answers to his life. With the unexpected appearance of a comet, he is lured back to the town he once called home. There he discovers that an evil warps those he cared about and threatens the woman he loved-Sophia. 
The Coughlins thought that vacationing in the scenic campgrounds of Sullen Falls would provide the respite from the crazy world and build a closer bond between parents and teen children. Drawn into town by what appears to be a festival, the family of four is plummeted into a nightmare none can awake. 
The secret to defeat the evil lies in an ancient book, guarded by the last of an order thought to be extinct. To save Sullen Falls, the Coughlins and Sophia, Seth must find the tome and accept his destiny, even if it would cost him everything that is dear to him. 
That, in a nutshell, is Sullen Falls. Though it takes some time for the novel to pick up speed, once the action starts, it doesn't let up. 
Palumbo has a knack for his characters - each bring their own distinct traits in the battle of good vs. evil, and each do so in an entertaining way. The main character, Seth, though not without his flaws, is a strong character whose destiny is weaved in with the story. And as the novel progresses, the tension between characters and plot points reaches a boiling point, ultimately culminating in an ending that is both satisfying and surprising. 
With many twists and turns by the end of the novel, Palumbo has a style that's all his own - his descriptive narrative makes the story simple enough to follow along but intricate enough to keep readers intrigued. 
For those who enjoy the broad spectrum of speculative fiction (particularly horror and fantasy), Sullen Falls is sure to keep you reading until the very end. 

By Ramona Plant on August 12, 2016 
Format: Paperback 
I absolutely LOVED this book!!!! 

The book starts of slowly, providing a lot of information that you don't know what to do with yet. The story soon gains in speed and soon you are captivated by this roller coaster ride! Frank is an excellent author that knows his craft well. He captivates you in this story and as aweful as it seems at times, it is difficult to stop reading. More than once was I at the edge of my seat! The pace is just perfect, keeping you reading without feeling rushed or thinking "I hope something happens soon". I think that in itself is a skill not all authors have and take time to develop. 

Frank created a unique plot and some great characters that really bring this story home. The plot has some well placed twists that you didn't see coming. His heros and heroines are well suited for this with a real feel to them. 

I can not wait to read more from this author and he will definitely be added to my read list in the future! 

I have received this book from the author for an honest review. 

Reviewed by Melinda Hills for Readers' Favorite 

Unspeakable evil has been under the watchful eye of an order of monks and the last of the Knights Templar but the arrival of a comet that only appears every 700 years makes trouble for this small town in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. Frank Julius Palumbo has created Sullen Falls which becomes the epicenter of this cosmic disaster. The Demon of Human Forms begins with the disillusioned old priest to steal the souls of all humans and animals to feed its appetites and gain strength. Townspeople think they are witnessing the Second Coming of Christ and are quickly consumed by evil. 

Seth Covington, a monk drawn back to the monastery, and his former lover, Sophia are among the only people spiritually strong enough to fight the demon and send it back to Hell. With the help of a young couple from town, another monk and a stray dog who is possessed by the spirit of a great wolf, they face the Demon and its disciples in the greatest battle of good and evil in over 2,000 years. The ultimate question is, who will prevail? 

Evil gains a foothold in a small rural town and the fight to put it back in its place is epic in Sullen Falls by Frank Julius Palumbo. Well-developed characters display tremendous emotional depth as they either succumb to or fight the lure of ecstasy as they endure tremendous trials as the action plays out. Graphic sex and intense violence may make this book unsuitable for some readers, but the overall effect is chilling and well worth the read. 

44 days ago 
Reviewed by Anne-Marie Reynolds for Readers' Favorite 

Sullen Falls by Frank Julius Palumbo is a horror story of epic proportions. Sullen Falls is in the past for Seth; he left it behind to go looking for a life, for answers to burning questions. A comet appears, luring him back and he finds nothing but evil. An evil that is all encompassing and is threatening anyone he ever held dear, including the woman he once loved, Sophia. The Coughlins decide that it would be nice to camp at Sullen Falls in a picturesque campground miles away from the craziness of real life. It's also a chance for parents and children to rediscover their bond, but none of them can imagine what horror they are about to face. A town festival is not what it seems and the nightmare begins. Seth, the Coughlins, and Sophia must unite to fight the evil and save the town. They must find an ancient book, a book that is under the guard of the last surviving member of an order thought to have been wiped out. Seth will have to come to terms with his destiny, no matter what it is, and whatever it costs him to save Sullen Falls. 

Sullen Falls by Frank Julius Palumbo is gripping roller coaster of a read. This is one of those books that, once it grabs your attention, it's difficult to put down. I found it a little slow to begin with, but it soon picked up pace. Before I knew it, I was in the thick of it, watching a terrifying tale unfold. The plot was complex, yet easy to understand and follow, the character development was excellent, giving enough background to let you know the characters, but not so much that it was too much. There was plenty of action and the story went into enough detail to keep you hooked and wanting to read more. Fans of the horror genre will find this story very much to their liking and I will be looking for more along these lines from Mr. Palumbo. 

Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite 

Sullen Falls by Frank Julius Palumbo is a riveting story where readers are introduced to Seth Covington who had left the Sullen Monastery five years ago. Seth goes in search of meaning in his life, but finds himself back in town where he realizes that not only has the place become evil, there is also a threat to the life of his lover, Sophia. Running parallel to the story of Seth Covington is the story of the Coughlins, whose idea of vacationing in Sullen Falls is to create a bond between parents and their teen kids. But then Sullen Falls is gripped by an evil force that threatens to transform the entire universe into hell. There is a way to defeat the evil force, but will Seth, Sophia, and the Coughlins be able to discover it and save Sullen Falls? 

Laced with horror and fantasy, the plot pulls readers into Sullen Falls. It's not the usual kind of horror novel. All the characters are well portrayed and readers can feel the evil lurking in Sullen Falls. Whether it is the nightmare that the Coughlins face or the unexpected appearance of a comet that brings Seth back to Sullen Falls, readers will be gripped by the horror and the eeriness that permeates the plot. The author's writing style is fluid, giving the story a good pace and movement. The narration is detailed and descriptive, making the scenes vivid for readers. The plot is impressive and the author has handled it well, keeping the suspense going. 


Right on time with the reality of the rumored approach of Planet X (Nibiru) towards Earth, Mr. Palumbo's The Enochian Wars: Armageddon Unleashed arrives on the market. In the story, Planet Niburu approaches and electromagnetic nuclear bombs are deployed, leaving Earth devastated and defenseless. As New York City is brought to its knees, the Annunaki and their lesser brethren, the Nephilim, round up humans for slavery and their cannibalistic feasts. Thousands of rectangular space ships land and form a wall around NYC, and a centrally located tower that exceeds the height of every NY skyscraper. Jack Savage and his partner Gilmore Boyle, both NYPD, lead a stray group of survivors in a fight to free Earthlings from their alien invaders. The story starts fast and doesn't slow down, jumping through a series of chapters in which different characters or groups of characters react to the attack. Some survive and some don't until mid-way through the book when Savage gets all the primary characters together for a final assault on the tower. How each of these characters comes together for the finale is plotted with great skill. Mr. Palumbo based his story on a well-documented mythology but sacrificed details for story pace. The story of the Annunaki is fascinating, and I would have preferred a bit more cohesion and amplification of the myth into the storyline. The author also took a considerable amount of artistic license in describing the Annunaki and their subordinate brethren, the Nephilim, which made them far more awesome and deadly. Primary characters are all interesting and easy to empathize with, but Ol' Willie-be-Good was (for me) by far the most intriguing and well defined. Mr. Palumbo also does a good job of describing scenes where human emotions range from anger to sorrow to fear and pee-inducing terror. His ability to describe action scenes is second to none for imagery and impact. For a fast-paced, action packed read, you can't go wrong with The Enochian Wars: Armageddon Unleashed.
The Enochian Wars: Armageddon Unleashed is a future-gothic horror fantasy novel by author Frank Julius Palumbo. An ancient planet filled with horrific winged gargoyles is about to return to an orbit beside the humble planet Earth, bringing with it a prophecy that humanity will be harvested, no soul left in existence. Whilst the whole world is thrown into chaos by the double threat of invasion and annihilation, the focus of this novel rests on New York City, where veteran cop Jack Savage is about to put his unconventional methods to the ultimate test. He has been practising Enochian magick for some time, and the imminent worldwide destruction gives Jack a great opportunity to take on the universe. Frank Julius Palumbo's omniscient narration style gives the opening of The Enochian Wars: Armageddon Unleashed a slick crime novel feel, adding believability to Jack's character and to the incredible and horrific events which follow in the plot. Gritty and hard-nosed throughout, Palumbo creates a cast of generally very unlikable characters, whom the reader still manages to root for, feel for, and celebrate with through their moments of triumph. Willie-Be-Good is a particularly vile example whom I couldn't get enough of. This commitment to character development, coupled with the vivid descriptive elements that one would expect from high fantasy fiction, makes for an intense read that really drives its horror elements home the more the plot goes on. Expect big action, big gore, and even bigger carnage in this apocalyptic and thrilling ride.


I started reading When Blood Reigns right after I finished watching Van Helsing, a tv series about a zombie apocalypse with vampires instead of zombies. Both put me in the same mindset: slightly spooked, slightly paranoid, afraid a zombie might turn up any moment, feeling like I couldn’t trust a single of the characters besides the main character, and that not all survivors might have the best of intentions. Alexis is an intriguing protagonist, and I particularly liked how she grew and changed throughout the book. The author’s combination of a zombie apocalypse with aliens and science-fiction elements is a huge bonus too. The Kryszka, as the aliens are called in this book, have a hand in the zombie apocalype now infesting earth, and that’s an unique spin. I don’t want to give anymore away about the relationships between the main cast, the zombeies, and the Kryszka, but it’s very compelling and entertaining. As with all apocalypse survivor stories, you get a sense of hopelessness. Not only is the world getting destroyed, there’s also no one left to trust. Good guys turn into bad guys. People who should rely on each other, betray each other. The writing is solid, and once I started reading, I kept turning page after page, curious to find out what would happen next to these characters. Not for the faint of heart (it is horror, after all) but definitely an enjoyable, suspenseful read for fans of horror and scifi.


MJ Boshers is a great new Author. With The Faewitch, she’s woven a tale full of fun, mystery and romance not only for the YA genre but for anyone, period. Sophie is surprised when she’s whisked off to lands of the Fae, Wizards and Giants. When she learns of her real heritage, she’s heaped with a journey like none other. She finds and uses her powers with the help of her new friends and mortal friends but will she win in the end? Will romance play a part in her journey and how will she deal with it? MJ Boshers’s story sucked me in from the beginning and kept me coming back for more. I had a hard time putting it down. She has created magical worlds that make you want to be a part of. The story is fast moving with her excellent short chapters and you’re at the end before you realize it. She has real talent and I can’t wait to see what she puts out next! I highly recommend this book…A+++!


By: Jessi S80 What can I say? Tara Fox Hall is my favorite author ever and I have read almost everything she has written without being disappointed in the slightest, that sure did not stop here! I was sucked in from start to finish barely able to set it down. Playing like a movie in my head through the whole thing smelling the smells, feeling everything from the kisses to the hellfire. Tara truly has a way to suck you in with her characters and make you completely fall in love with them, I mean who ever thought you would root for a demon for goodness sake! I remember Shaker having a role in her Promise me series so reading this story really gave me some background and a chance to see him for him instead of just the brother of Titus. I love how Devlin and (my book boyfriend) Lash(both from her Promise Me series and Lash from his own series) make an appearance too! I adore how she intertwines her stories and series', it gives the characters true depth. I have said it before and I will say it again, you cannot go wrong with anything Tara Fox Hall writes, I would read her to-do list!

Paperbacks from Hell-Joey Hirsch

<p>Goosebumps, Gore, and Garish Cover Art: A Review of Paperbacks from Hell


<p>The reader has undoubtedly heard, ad infinitum, that one should not judge a book by its cover. The reader also undoubtedly knows their eyes (and the rest of their senses) don’t obey this rule. Cover art is important, not just in selling the book to the reader, but in affecting how one ultimately feels about a book, especially as its contents fade into memory, while certain visual elements on the cover (things like color, especially) become strong nostalgic cues that sometimes elicit more vivid emotions than the stories themselves. I’ve not only judged books by their covers, but I’ve sometimes forgotten the contents of books while becoming more enamored of the paintings and drawings on the covers that claimed an especially feverish hold on my imagination. This was especially true when I was a boy discovering the likes of Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Michael Crichton.

<p>I remember in the fourth grade I was obsessed with the Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine, which served as a kind of compliment to the eerie and well-made Are you afraid of the Dark? series that used to run on Nickelodeon. There was a bit of a renaissance on the Nickelodeon network back in those days, with the surreal and transgressive Ren & Stimpy and its commitment to detailed painterly close-up images of boogers in nostrils and rubber-nipples on knee-garters. This is to say nothing of Pete and Pete, the preteen equivalent of the grownup go-to quirky TV show of the era Twin Peaks

<p>My favorite in the Goosebumps series was Let’s Get Invisible. It’s a story whose contents I’ve forgotten but whose cover featuring a boy dissolving in front of a mirror, a la Marty McFly, looms large in my mind. Part of that could be that I remember how my fourth-grade teacher came by my desk to inspect the ridged lettering on the cover of the book one day during class, dragging her long fingernail along the foil ridges that gave the Goosebumps title the literal feel of gooseflesh. I got my first boner that I can remember that day. A boy doesn’t forget things like that.

<p>Minimalist, tasteful covers have their place (Black Sparrow put out some wonderfully understated poetry volumes in handsome, cork-bound editions before Ecco obtained the imprint) but those aren’t the kind of books under discussion in Grady Hendrix’s Paperbacks from Hell, a tour-de-force marriage of images and lively text that becomes that rarest of all gems: a coffee-table book that’s as informative as it is gorgeous to behold.

<p>Herr Hendrix writes very well, in a funny and accessible tone, and he is not only knowledgeable about the horror industry and the writers and artists who labored in it. He is also passionate in his belief that those nerds among us who seek these books out from bargain bins and secondhand stores are not just wasting our time with trashy, disposable literature; we are rescuing and hopefully preserving the art of a class of craftsmen and craftswomen who’s denigrated, ignored, or forgotten works are worth honorable reassessment. Hendrix could have adopted a totally camp approach to the books he’s talking about, and given them a good skewering (and sometimes he does), but he’s not a snob or a cynic. He’s a believer in what he’s writing about and sharing with the reader.

<p>The book is well-structured, with chapters devoted to different themes. There’s a section on the proliferation of books on the Satanic and occult that enjoyed great vogue after Charles Manson (thankfully now departed) and his group of followers committed the Tate-LaBianca murders and proved there was a dark, destructive obverse side to the sunny Age of Aquarius that so many were sure would soon be ushered in. Mr. Hendrix does a good job of showing how original and creative practitioners of horror who gave us works like The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby redefined the genre, which in turn stimulated artists’ imaginations in new ways. This of course led to slews of knockoffs, rip-offs, and books branded In the Tradition of (fill in the blank) or More Terrifying than (fill in the blank). Rarely if ever were the successors and imitators as good as the books they mimicked (or cashed in on), and the fact that these subsequent books marketed themselves in imitation of their forebears only proves the permanence of a tale like The Exorcist compared to the easily forgotten money-grabs that cropped up in its wake.

<p>Books by horror stalwarts are featured in the pages of Paperbacks from Hell, but lesser-known and fascinating works by writers whose disturbing and sometimes brilliant work got buried in the midlist are also now awaiting rediscovery thanks to Hendrix’s diligent digging. In fact, if one were so inclined, one could spend a year or two tracking down all the books mentioned in Paperbacks and acquainting themselves with a forgotten wellspring of gory, creative, and sometimes wondrous creations. These authors cranked out material for the supermarket rack at a white-heat clip, but they also managed to do some very good work as mass market subalterns, while the more literary-minded looked down their noses at these brave and intrepid souls laboring in the trenches.

<p>Since the best horror books marry the fears of the moment with those of a more eternal nature, one could learn quite a bit of history just by taking this tour with Mr. Hendrix. Books about nuclear war and mutants obviously reflect the fear of mutually-assured annihilation during the Cold War (resurgent now due to Kim Jong Un’s bellicose missile tests), but less obvious anxieties are unearthed (literally) when eldritch medicine men emerge from Indian burial grounds to exact revenge on the Europeans living in America, reminding us that the relative peace and prosperity of the American Dream was built on the realization of a nightmare for the indigenous peoples here before we arrived. Or sometimes when houses were built on Indian burial grounds and the walls in the living room started to bleed and the appliances flew free from the walls, it was Middle America’s way of grappling with fears of a monthly mortgage nut that couldn’t be met.

<p>The book ends on a bit of a down note, as Hendrix documents how the bottom fell out of the market after the Splatter Punk genre had run its leather-clad, sadomasochistic gender-bending course. The little fish who could have made decent livings writing short stories in the days of the men’s magazines couldn’t even manage to recoup the cost of their advances before publishers sent their books to be pulped.

<p>Grady Hendrix’s examination stops before the print-on-demand revolution gave the little guy or a gal another fighting chance to scare readers silly, with or without the backing of agents, hefty advances, or large publishing houses. This independence opened the market back up, but may have unfortunately opened it a bit too wide, as the books from the talented mavericks who use guerilla marketing now get mixed in with titles by people whose only talent (aside from cribbing and recycling the ideas of others) is making it harder for the indies with talent to have their voices heard amid the democratized din in which crap and gold carry the same price tag. My advice to writers with talent: find a talented cover artist. Oh, and support the talented and diligent author Grady Hendrix by buying two copies of Paperbacks from Hell, one for you and one as a Christmas gift for friends who don’t mind a little something macabre for the Yuletide. It’s probably the most enjoyable reading experience I’ve had all year, and considering this is December, it is most likely to remain at the top of my year-end list.

<p>Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix, available from Quirk Books. 256 Pages.

<p>***** of ***** Rats with Wings



“It” 2017 movie review

Ronald Edward Griffin

Let me start with saying I’m going to try and make this review spoiler free as possible. When I first read that they were remaking It I also read several complaints that they shouldn’t. That it was a masterpiece and Tim Currys’ performance was untouchable. I agree that Tim Curry made an awesome Pennywise, however, the movie itself I feel was okay for a remake. The original was a PG made for television mini-series so of course it wouldn’t be able to show some of the darker aspects of the story. In the opening of the movie when Georgie first meets Pennywise the tone is way more different. When you see that he puts his teeth into Georgie’s arm and see the poor boy crawling away with a bloody stump that this was going to be a different movie from the start. Bill Skarsgard (from Netflix hemlock Grove, Allegiant) makes for a much darker sinister Pennywise. There is humor in this movie but a much darker humor. For the story of the movie I like how that the length of the movie focuses on just the kids story instead of bouncing back and forth to the adults just having flashbacks. I look forward to the next chapter to see what they can do with the loser’s club as adults. This movie is awesome as a standalone film without having to have a sequel story-wise but I still want to see where they go. The basics of the story is the same with the loser’s club all meeting and establishing a deep friendship. They notice the bad things happening in Derry and they realize they are stronger together. Pennywise does his best to separate them and use their fears against them. However, you see each of the kids facing their own fears and overcoming them before the climactic battle where they aren’t afraid of him anymore. The movie was one of those rare moments where the remake is better than the original in my opinion. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.




Manhattan Gothic
by Joseph Hirsch

James Howard Kunstler is primarily known as a peak oil expert, all-around “doomer,” and critic of suburban sprawl. When he’s not inducing horror by reminding us of what the future holds for post-collapse America (see The Long Emergency and his World Made by Hand series), Jim is busy crafting stories in various other genres and subgenres (a long time ago, he even wrote a little gem called Bagging Bigfoot about trying to capture America’s most notorious and elusive cryptid).

If you’re in the mood for a good Halloween tale, something short but neither too saccharine nor too gross, you could do much worse than Kunstler’s Manhattan Gothic. The longish short story is about young Jeff Greenway, a plucky quixotic preteen who lives in Manhattan with his two parents. Jeff spends his evenings watching a local show featuring a charismatic late-night host who introduces cheesy old horror movies.

Although Elvira, Mistress of the Dark and the Mystery Science Theater 3000 crew are well-known to general audiences, what’s less well-known is that lots of cities used to have their own strange coterie of horror and SF buffs to host their local shows. They had names like Sinister Seymour and Vampira, and their running commentary and verbal jibes were as much a part of their appeal as the movies they were presenting (usually the worse the movie, the better the commentary).

Manhattan Gothic features its own kooky variation on this type, a strange Transylvanian by the name of Count Zackuloff. The reader knows they’re in the capable hands of a master from the very beginning of Kunstler’s tale. Reading the opening paragraph of the story is like getting hit by a blast of dust after blowing on the cracked cover of an old vinyl party record, a gust of nostalgia so strong it feels like it might form a tangible cloud before the reader’s eyes:

“Years ago, in New York City, an eleven-year-old boy named Jeff Greenway conceived an inordinate fascination with a local television personality who went by the name of Count Zackuloff. The Count was the host of a regular horror movie program broadcast on Friday nights. His job was to introduce the movies and lead into the numerous commercial advertisements. He appeared in makeup derived from Lon Chaney’s classic Phantom of the Opera guise, his skin ghoulishly whitened, eye sockets and nostrils shaded black, and hair parted slickly down the middle. His costume was a moldy black frock coat with a boiled shirtfront and, in place of a necktie, a large bejeweled medal worn at the throat, which he called ‘the Royal Transylvanian Star of Skullduggery’ with three tana leaf clusters.”

I don’t even know what “tana leaf clusters” are, but I do know good writing when I read it.

As the story develops, young Jeff works up the nerve (and the cab fare) to head down to the local station where the Count broadcasts his ghoulish and low-budget fare on a nightly basis. Jeff happens to have the Count’s coordinates because, as “editor-in-chief of The Transylvania Times,” he had previously staked out the studio (pardon the choice of words) trying to get an interview with Herr Zackuloff himself. His exchange with the receptionist at the Channel Five studio proves telling. Jeff, ever the zealous fan, asks the secretary when the Count usually appears. “Around ten…when he’s sober.”

Jeff’s persistence pays off and he finally gets his chance to meet the Count, announcing himself to the minor celebrity as Renfield, Zackuloff’s nephew from Transylvania.

The story grows more poignant, and perhaps even a little bit profound after the man and the boy form their bond. I won’t spoil it by providing any more details here, assuming you read the story (which I hope you do).

James Kunstler does a wonderful job of evoking the whimsy of childhood, coupling this with a dose of a burgeoning adolescence’s skepticism, recalling a less romantic Ray Bradbury or a Boomer version of Tim Burton (if he could write as well as draw).

If you’re in the mood for gore, then you’ll have to look elsewhere, since little or no blood is shed within these pages. Then again, there’s no law or custom that says that you can’t enjoy a multi-course Halloween repast, with a couple of bloody dishes (maybe a slasher flick or a zombie movie?) followed by something more tasteful, like Manhattan Gothic.

Just remember that whatever you watch, read, eat, drink (or screw) last is likely to linger longest, and thereby give you either pleasant dreams or haunting nightmares.

Manhattan Gothic
, by James Howard Kunstler, gets **** out of ***** Rats with Wings

The book is available in kindle or as a paperback edition from Water Street Press.