Author Archives: Barry Lee Dejasu

About Barry Lee Dejasu

I wasn't...and then I was.

By Bizarre Hands

If you’re looking for tales of unflinching tension, grisly violence, and/or deeply disturbing horror, all told in a mesmerizing voice, then you need to pick up a copy of Joe R. Lansdale’s first short story collection, By Bizarre Hands. Originally published in 1989 by Avon, most of the sixteen stories in this collection were previously published in various anthologies and magazines, although two of them are exclusive to this book. That same year, it would go on to be nominated for a Stoker for Best Fiction Collection.

There are a number of nasty, gritty tales contained in these pages. “The Pit” and “The Steel Valentine” contain suspense and violence that swiftly escalates into action-packed finales that, upon finishing them, you’d think you’d just read novels. The title story, along with “Boys Will Be Boys” (later absorbed into Lansdale’s 1987 novel The Nightrunners) and “I Tell You It’s Love,” spend so much intimate time in the depraved minds of their deeply disturbed characters that you need to give your soul a shower afterwards. And “Night They Missed the Horror Show,” a 1988 winner for the since-discontinued Stoker Award for Best Short Fiction category, is such an unrelentingly grim story that it might just obliterate one’s faith in humanity.

Not all of these stories are dark reflections of twisted souls. A pioneer in the bizarro subgenre, Lansdale pens a few tales here that furrow the brow and raise the WTF? meter to the max. “Fish Night” is every bit as mythical in feeling as the tale that one of its characters tells. “The Fat Man and the Elephant” is a straight-faced story of a man seeking a sort of god in the confines of a dying elephant’s stench. And “Tight Little Stitches In a Dead Man’s Back,” besides arguably having one of the best short story titles EVER, is a disturbing recollection of the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse and the journey that a couple take as they mourn the loss of their daughter. If I said any more, I would be spoiling it. Just make sure you have memory bleach ready, because you won’t be able to un-see some of this tale’s squirm-inducing images.

Also worth noting are two period pieces. “The Windstorm Passes” is a Dustbowl-era tale that is a spiritual precursor to his 2000 novel, The Bottoms (reviewed here). And “Trains Not Taken” is perhaps the most unusual story in the whole collection, being a bittersweet alternate history tale of unhappy love and unfulfilled dreams set against the backdrop of a Japanese-colonized Wild West.

Landsale’s particularly American prose is less of a product of his background than it is a key element of his style. It’s often quick, to-the-point and on-the-nose storytelling, yet he knows how to incorporate and build suspense. He doesn’t ever shy from describing anything grim or nasty; he doesn’t just “go there” in his stories—he’s practically built his home “there.”

Although the printed editions of this book are long discontinued, they’re fortunately not too hard to find; and, for those so inclined, By Bizarre Hands is also available as an e-book. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy now—and just know that after you read its dark tales, you will never be the same.

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Gateways to Abomination

You’re listening to 89.7, WXXT, the Black Heart of the Pioneer Valley. Next up, Matthew M. Bartlett’s Gateways To Abomination

Although this book is billed as “collected short fiction,” it reads more like an epistolary novel than a collection of stories; as such, one should read these thirty-odd tales from cover to cover, and not just by random selection.

In the course of these tales and vignettes, several very real towns in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, dark forces are gathering: monsters, ghosts, and strange metamorphoses are creeping forth from the shadows to claim thrall upon humankind, and with a growing number of insanity-driven people volunteering to help see the plot come to fruition. Ominously playing in the background are diabolical messages and hypnotic tunes from a local radio station—WXXT.

Even with all of their connections, the stories at work in this collection are significantly unique from one another. In pieces such as “The Last Hike” and the “Ballad(s) of Ben Stockton,” unsuspecting people naïvely wander into the rising darkness. “Interview with Emily Lavallee” is a transcript of a hysterical woman recalling the bizarre horrors she’d witnessed earlier that night. “Notice – 1802” reads like a private club’s newsletter.

Most of the stories are contemporary, but a few take place in the early 1900’s, and even earlier. Some of the stories are as short as a single paragraph, whereas others stretch to several-page length. The one thing that they have in common is that they all share a hallucinatory narrative, casting fever dreams of vivid descriptions that are sometimes enough to make the reader squirm. And although the larger plot against which all of these stories are told isn’t particularly clear, that hardly matters. Behind these morbid tales, the big, twisted picture grins wickedly out at the reader.

Finally, the format of the book itself must be applauded. Entirely self-published, the format is professionally done, with the front cover featuring a lovingly pulpy sketch of a small town dwarfed by a radio tower, with a looming goat floating in the background. (There’s even a bogus publisher’s logo, “OCCULT,” printed in the bottom corner.) This cover is a thoughtful aesthetic, and one that makes the experience of reading all the more fun.

So tune in to 89.7, WXXT, and take a step into these Gateways to Abomination.

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Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine

The Horror Zine’s latest short story anthology, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, edited by Jeani Rector and printed by Post Mortem Press, is allegedly also their final one. Listed as “the scariest book that [they have] ever produced” on the Zine’s website, there are some big-name authors to be found here, including Elizabeth Massie, P.D. Cacek, Tom Piccirilli, Ray Garton, and Joe McKinney, alongside many other, newer and lesser-known authors.

There were stories in this anthology that particularly stood out. Martin Rose’s opener, “Tapeworm,” had me squirming with its subdued, suggested-but-not-seen horrors. Eric J. Guignard’s “One Last Tweet” was a delightfully disorienting second-person story-cum-postmodern social commentary about our Internet age. Elizabeth Massie’s “Squatters” was a solid, old-fashioned tale of a vile man getting his just desserts. P.D. Cacek’s “Somniphobia” was a fun, hallucinatory ride through night (and day) terrors. At first glance, Nathan Robinson’s “Old Haunts” was a typically gory zombie apocalypse tale, until it cleverly asks the reader to wonder just who is narrating the story. And let’s just say that Ray Garton’s “Parasites” is NOT a story to be read in the bathroom.

I have to admit that going into this anthology I was fairly stoked, but ultimately, I was a bit disappointed. A number of the stories just didn’t groove with me, often suffering from the common storytelling problem of “too much tell, not enough show.” Others were too heavy-handed with their horror delivery. Now, every multiple-author story anthology runs the risk of having some stories that don’t work for every reader; it’s a given evil in any art field. In this case, however, the sheer number of weaker stories hurt my overall opinion of the anthology.

Bentley Little’s introduction, in which he all but literally admits that he’s only included for cosmetic purposes, didn’t help. “I haven’t read any of the stories in this anthology,” he states in his opening paragraph. “I don’t even know the names of the authors contributing to this volume.” His admission left me desiring a more dedicated introduction, be it by Little or someone else. His lack of enthusiasm didn’t help my overall opinion of the stories and my feelings of their quality.

Furthermore, the book’s early inclusion of an essay by John Russo, co-scribe of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), was another touch that didn’t quite work. Russo rambles about zombies, and how they’ve changed over the years, yet not once does he mention the following stories, nor Jeani Rector, nor anything else to do with this anthology. Beyond being another big name, its inclusion is not clearly justified.

For all of its content (over 30 stories in all), Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine felt like it was assembled with quantity in mind, rather than a strong sense of overall quality. Here’s to hoping that it isn’t truly The Horror Zine’s final anthology, if nothing else than for the hopes of a more proper send-off.

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Sugar Skull

The concluding volume in a haunting graphic novel trilogy, Sugar Skull concludes the hallucinatory, heartbreaking, hilarious, and mysterious odyssey begun in X’ed Out and continued in The Hive.

Like all of Charles Burns’s works, including the acclaimed graphic novel Black Hole, the Xe’d Out trilogy features the same starkly-penned, startlingly-detailed drawings, but with one major difference: it’s all rendered in full color, adding a whole other dimension of dark beauty.

I could get more into some of the specifics of Sugar Skull, but the thing is, the X’ed Out trilogy doesn’t unfold in a traditional linear narrative. With each volume, Mr. Burns presents bits and pieces of a mosaic of five different storylines, and it’s up to the reader to figure out how they all add up.

Over the course of those different storylines, we get to know Doug, a lonely nebbish who’s just trying to get a good break in life. In one of the storylines, Doug is in his teens, living with his overbearing father and occasionally performing spoken-word songs from behind a mask at punk rock shows; at one point, he befriends and starts to date a moody and mysterious girl named Sarah. In another timeline, there are scenes of Doug and Sarah living together, while still learning more about each other—often through Sarah’s photographs of darkly erotic self-portraits. Then there’s Doug’s life after Sarah, where he wastes his days in his father’s house, recovering from a (mostly) unexplained accident. Later still, we see Doug, now seeing someone else, trying to come to terms with all his problems. Finally, there’s Doug, several years later, having recovered from an addiction and trying to move on with his life with his ultimate lover, Sally.

Woven throughout Doug’s story, there are glimpses of the strange saga of “Nit Nit,” a character that’s at once a surreal caricature of Doug and a bizarro parody of the famous comic character Tintin, created by Belgian artist Hergé. The darkly humorous adventures of Nit Nit take place in a strange dystopian world full of odd creatures, including a foul-mouthed, porcine-featured midget of a man wearing a diaper, who in showing Nit Nit around, becomes almost like a friend. Nit Nit where he is put to work by (and alongside) lizard-like creatures in office suits, slaving away at “the Hive,” where…well, let’s just say that’s where it starts to get really weird. Is this all a dream, drug-induced or otherwise, of Doug’s? Maybe. Is it a surreal summary of different passages of Doug’s life? Maybe. Is it an alternate reality from Doug’s altogether? Maybe. Does it really matter what this storyline means? Probably not.

Ultimately, I spent a lot of time reading these books with my brow furrowed, because honestly, the fractured narrative was more than a little puzzling. I even re-read the previous volumes before each new one came out, just to make sure everything was as fresh as possible, but that didn’t always help. I suppose, if one was to cut out all the pieces of the comic and arrange them into a somewhat linear storyline, one might be able to discern the big, weird picture—but what would be the fun of that? Although the X’ed Out trilogy thumbs its nose at the reader with one hand, its other is pointing the reader to travel even deeper down the rabbit-hole of its strange story. Like all of his previous books, this is a tale that only Charles Burns could tell.

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Horrorstör

When I tell somebody why they have to read Grady Hendrix’s Horrorstör, I like to mention that it’s a novel that comes in the form of a retail furniture catalog, complete with illustrations of specific products that are featured in each chapter. But when I urge somebody to read this, I try to emphasize that, much like other aesthetically unique novels such as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the novel itself is quite good.

Horrorstör tells the story of an Ikea-like home goods store called Orsk. An introverted young woman named Amy is one of a number of employees unhappily slaving away. An unsympathetic and tunnel-visioned manager named Basil is raising the pressure even higher because the store is about to be audited—and in direct conflict with that, something strange is happening in the store: furniture is being inexplicably damaged and soiled in the night. To try to stop the menace at work, Basil recruits Amy and another employee, the ever-cheerful veteran Ruth Anne, to spend the night in the store and keep an eye out for the vandals. That night, they do discover unwelcome company—in the form of two other employees, Matt and Trinity, who are convinced the store is haunted, and want to film the pilot of a reality TV series about their adventure—and that’s when things really begin to get strange.

What made the book work, like any good, classic tale, was a combination of organic characterization and solid storytelling. Amy is a likeable and sympathetic character, but with plenty of flaws and quirks that made me want to pull her aside and talk to her. Basil, meanwhile, is everything you’d expect from a manager whose sole concern is business, and who only cares about how his employees are feeling if it would affect his store. Along with the overly-nice Ruth Anne, Basil is the source of many an eye-roll; yet as the long, dark night unfolds, both of them show a number of unexpected turns of hearts and minds. And while Matt and Trinity could have been (and at first, very much are) stereotypes straight out of the Nerd Herd in the TV show Chuck, the events of Horrorstör affect them every bit as much as everyone else.

But what happens during this long night in Orsk, you may ask? Naturally, I can’t tell you, but I’ll say this much: everything about the store comes into play, from the various furnishings to the very layout of the store. The novel is as much a dark satire of retail stores everywhere as it is an adventure in its own right. And yes, it’s a creepy read; make no mistake about it—this book is most definitely a horror novel, with some truly unsettling moments, and a few images that won’t easily be forgotten.

I myself have worked nine years in retail, and I can honestly say that anybody whom has unhappily served in retail will get even more of a kick out of this fun, wild read. I don’t know how well it would read as an e-book, but as I flipped through this catalog, I found myself laughing out loud, then very quickly falling silent, eyes widening, as the eerie events unfold in the home goods store from hell.

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Nameless: The Darkness Comes (The Bone Angel Trilogy, Book One)

Nameless: The Darkness Comes. the new novel by former Shock Totem editor Mercedes M. Yardley, tells the story of Luna Masterson, a young woman cursed with the ability to see demons.  It’s bad enough to know that demons exist at all, but in Luna’s world, they’re everywhere; walking down a city street, going to the store, even just looking out the window, she’s bound to run into demons anywhere she goes.  And it gets worse: much like Cole Sear in The Sixth Sense, the demons know that Luna can see them; they want to cause her trouble and pain–and they’ll never leave her alone.  In this novel, the first book of The Bone Angel Trilogy, Luna is seeking some kind of balance, or even happiness, in her haunted life; meanwhile, her unbelieving brother is fighting for custody over his baby daughter from his venomous ex, and Luna has just met a charming, mysterious man who doesn’t doubt or even question her unique ability.  With the demons restlessly clawing into Luna’s world, the big question is: will she ever be able to live a normal life?

I find myself often shying away from badass-chicks-versus-the-supernatural books, because more often than not, their synopses seem to spell out a cookie-cutter pattern reminiscent of a certain Vampire Slayer.  So it was that when I sat down with Nameless: The Darkness Comes, I was narrow-eyed with suspicion that it would be no exception to that phenomenon.  However, Mrs. Yardley had a few surprises up her sleeve, and what could’ve been a terribly cliché read was instead involving, suspenseful, and with a hefty dose of quirky thrown in for good measure.

With a good sense of description (vivid, yet not beating the reader over the head with exposition and/or detail), Mrs. Yardley keeps the narrative taut and fast-paced. Luna is (as one would expect) tough-as-nails, and always ready to flip the birdie at any foe, be they supernatural or more familiarly human.  More refreshing, however, is the fact that she’s vulnerable; and I’m not just talking about sympathetic feelings here and there; I mean she is capable of getting scared, sad, tired, and even…injured.  In fact, she gets her ass handed to her on a couple of occasions in this book, emotionally as well as physically; it took me by sheer surprise to see Mrs. Yardley not pull any punches, and it made a few scenes truly memorable, and even haunting.  (One particularly grisly sequence even made my heart jump up into my throat, but I won’t spoil it here.)

I do have to admit that there was one element at work in this novel which was a frequent issue for me, and that was the dialogue.  Now, I don’t mind characters that talk in hip dialect; even if it’s not mind-blowing prose, I can just write it off as a characteristic at work.  However, when I’m reading about terrifying supernatural forces, I don’t want to hear demonic entities speaking like snarky hipsters; and while it worked to an extent in a few some scenes of bickering between Luna and other characters, it was often a bit of a distraction for me, as it really took some of the seriousness out of some otherwise tense scenes.

As someone who isn’t really a fan of this subgenre/niche, I have to say that overall, Nameless: The Darkness Comes was a pretty fun, and sometimes surprising, read.  And if a series featuring a tough woman battling supernatural evil is your kind of bag, then you’re in for a real treat.

Available through Ragnarok Publications.

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The Last Town: A Wayward Pines Thriller

How exactly does one write a review about the last book in a trilogy as a stand-alone article, without spoiling anything of the two preceding books? Well, perhaps it can go something like this: if you haven’t yet read Blake Crouch’s novel Pines and its sequel Wayward, then you have no business reading The Last Town. Go read them, then get back to this review.

…Back already? You mean you read Pines and Wayward already? …Are you lying to me? Well, just remember this: when it comes to venturing into this SPOILER-ish territory, you’re only going to spoil yourself. But, just because I hate spoilers, myself, I’ll try to keep things “safe” in this review of The Last Town, the concluding volume to Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines trilogy.

To recap, in Pines, Secret Service agent Ethan Burke found himself in the titular Idaho town in his search for two missing agents, only to get quickly immersed in a mystery of Lynchian (and Lynch-inspired) proportions. In Wayward, Ethan had resigned himself to the town’s falsely blissful ways—yet a building undercurrent of tension lures him out of the faux-reverie and into action.

The Last Town picks up mere hours after the proverbial shit has hit the fan in Wayward’s cliffhanger ending, and doesn’t let up for a second. To call it fast-paced doesn’t begin to cover it; except for a few key flashback scenes (more on that in a moment), the rest of the book is taut with tension. Action, suspense, grisly gore, and a few truly unpredictable sequences run rampant here, as is Mr. Crouch’s signature style. All the major characters are back and (mostly) in fine form. I’ll admit, I felt that a few characters’ fates were a bit abrupt, but the book’s ultimate outcome was appropriately satisfying.

The main issue that I had with this book also has to do with its pacing and those flashbacks. Pines used flashbacks—of a sort—to hallucinatory effects in the very structure of the narrative. However, the very punchline to that book was what drove the plots to both Wayward and The Last Town; so when you read the flashbacks in these books, that’s all they are: just flashbacks. Unfortunately, this also muffles the deep mystery that the first book had, so the two later books are more about the action and suspense than they are about discovery and revelation. I miss that sense of mystery; but on the other hand, Mr. Crouch smartly avoided adding twists and turns for novelty’s sake, which could have easily hurt the overall plot (as certain TV series have done, and subsequently suffered from—Twin Peaks and LOST, I’m looking at you!). He deftly tells the rest of the Great Big Story in a straight-edged sweep, and you know what? It worked well.

Finally, I have to admit I’m excited about the upcoming FOX series based on these books, starring Matt Dillon, Carla Gugino, Terrance Howard, and a host of other actors, with the pilot directed by M. Night Shyamalan. In the afterward to Pines, Blake Crouch admits that the book started out as his meditation on what was really going on in Twin Peaks—and an attempt at concluding that show’s convoluted and unfinished story lines. I think that with the Wayward Pines trilogy, Mr. Crouch has more than bested Twin Peaks’ continuity, by approaching his own mysterious town with a grand plan in mind from the outset. The story lines all very neatly tie together in The Last Town. Let’s just hope that, assuming the Wayward Pines TV series is a hit and is renewed long enough, the events of The Last Town will also be brought into the mix, and like this book, make for a blood-soaked, action-packed conclusion to a tense and surreal saga.

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World of Trouble: The Last Policeman, Book III

This is how the world ends: an asteroid, 2011GV1 (nicknamed Maia) is headed straight for the earth. It’s almost four miles wide. And yes—its impact will, quite literally, bring about the end of the world. Welcome to the pre-apocalyptic backdrop of Ben H. Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy.

In the imminent countdown to Maia’s arrival, the world has been falling apart, hard and fast. People are degrading into any and every number of frenzied reactions, with every possible extreme being taken, from survival-seeking riots and hopeless hippie movements to dismal stock market crashes and mass suicides. In the flames of our collapsing civilization, organizations, governments, everything is fragmenting into chaos. And yet, in New Hampshire, Henry “Hank” Palace of the Concord Police Department can’t seem to let go of his detective’s instincts to solve crimes.

In The Last Policeman, in the wake of an apparent suicide at a local fast food joint, Palace begins to suspect it was, in fact, a murder. But why, with the end of the world fast approaching, should Palace want to investigate a possible murder? Or, as seen in the second novel, Countdown City, why should he wish to find an old acquaintance’s missing husband? Why should he even care about solving any kind of crime at this point? This latter question is the crux of these three novels, and that is because, quite simply, there’s one thing that Palace knows he can still do—one thing he can still control, even as an unstoppable force of total destruction comes streaking through the night sky: he can set some wrongs right before the potential end of the world.

Whether or not the asteroid really does end up making impact doesn’t really matter.* What does matter is the long and treacherous journey that Henry Palace makes in the months, weeks, and days in which the respective novels take place. Running through all of these books is a larger plot—and far more personal—than the cases at hand: the other half of Palace’s life, his younger sister Nico, a never-say-never source of spunk and wit who has her own pre-Maia agenda. Nico is clinging to the rumor that there are those who are working on a way to divert Maia from making impact, and she’s determined to join their cause.

Thus the stage is set for World of Trouble, the final book in the Last Policeman trilogy. With only six days remaining before 2011GV1’s landing, and Palace only barely recovered from the violent and grim events of Countdown City, the stakes are higher than ever as he sets out on his newest—and most likely, final—case: to locate his sister, who’s gone off with the would-be saviors of humankind in an effort to stop the asteroid.

As with the previous novels, Palace’s first-person narrative in World of Trouble makes for a slow-burn pace, making the tight timeframe all the more suspenseful. Palace’s faithful sidekick, a dog he’d found in the first novel and later named Houdini, is often his only companion, making for a few very worrisome scenes. Other characters from previous books appear (but for fear of spoiling anything, I won’t say who), and of course there are a number of new characters as well, and as with the previous books, many of them are as memorable as Palace himself.

There’s really not much else I can say about World of Trouble without giving away too much about it, or its predecessors; it’s the ultimate epic pre-apocalyptic mystery, courtesy of Mr. Winters. If you’ve been eagerly waiting for this book, know this: you will be perfectly rewarded with this heart-wrenching conclusion. And if you have yet to read The Last Policeman, well, despite its premise, it’s not too late to start.

* And if you actually expect me to spoil that ultimate outcome, dream on. Don’t be lazy. Read the Last Policeman trilogy and find out for yourself, and more importantly, enjoy the ride.

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The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

I approach most multiple-author anthologies skeptically, because more often than not, they turn out to be a mixed bag. This doesn’t necessarily mean they turn out to be bags full of crap—only that some of the stories may be good (or even great), and others—not so much. Co-edited by anthology wizard Ross E. Lockhart and Justin Steele (who conceived of this anthology), The Children of Old Leech is unfortunately no exception to the mixed-bag phenomenon, but it’s an unusual one in that all of its stories are set in (or are otherwise inspired by) the terrifying worlds penned by the author Laird Barron.

If you don’t know the works of Barron, I highly recommend you change that right now, and not just for the sake of this review. He’s an amazing writer, perfectly fluent in the language of nightmare, as well as of English. The world he sees and describes is, as the subtitle to this anthology suggests, a “carnivorous” one, wherein malignant forces aren’t merely waiting to creep into our collective consciousness and bring darkness over us all—such forces are already here, gleefully watching humankind blithely walk about in this illusion of light, sanity, and safety, just waiting for us to stumble into the dark that’s always all around us. When you read Barron, you discover that holes in trees and basement doors left ajar are doorways into the howling, bloody voids. Dark forces seem drawn to the Broadsword Hotel, set in Barron’s hometown-cum-playground of the Pacific Northwest. Copies of a mysterious book, Moderor de Caliginis, “Black Guide,” a sort of unholy travel guide to these dark places, frequently pop up in his tales. And just how well, a character in one of his stories may ask you, do you really know that friend of yours, or even your loved one? Does that scar on their neck almost appear like a seam in a flesh-mask? Ah, but perhaps it is, and perhaps they are in fact a Child of the Old Leech themselves—but don’t worry, for they love you…

So what of the seventeen authors’ respective tales in The Children of Old Leech, then? What else of Barron’s nightmarish world could be explored? Could there possibly be anybody but Mr. Barron himself whom could properly observe and tell tales of his “Pacific Northwest Mythos?” The answer, judging from this collection, is in fact largely a yes—and sometimes, a no.

First of all, there are a bunch of solidly written stories that rightfully belong here, even if they aren’t immediately obvious in their inclusion. For instance, the opening tale, “The Harrow,” by Gemma Files, is a fine tale of building madness as a woman starts digging up strange artifacts from her backyard. Orrin Grey’s “Walpurgisnacht,” while reminiscent of the works of Klein, Brite, and even good ol’ Lovecraft in narrative, felt like a tale that would make Barron proud. And “Pale Apostle,” by J.T. Glover and Jesse Bullington, is a pulpy tale set in a Chinatown gift shop, with the “Barron-ian” vibes hovering just outside its closed windows.

Then there are many stories that are far more obvious in their complements, and although not all of them worked (T.E. Grau’s “Love Songs From the Hydrogen Jukebox” was a little overlong in its buildup, and Michael Griffin’s “Firedancing” kind of lost its steam toward the end), some of them really nailed their tribute to Barron and neatly earn their places in this book.

There were also a number of tales that made spins on traditional narrative. The mercurial prose of Jeffrey Thomas’s “Snake Wine” and Stephen Graham Jones’ “Brushdogs” made for reads that were every bit as hypnotic as they were eerie. Two tales even took a straight-up epistolary approach: “Good Lord, Show Me the Way,” by Molly Tanzer, which neatly wove a three-person e-mail conversation regarding a grad student’s questionable dissertation (and its mysterious aspects thereof), and Paul Tremblay’s “Notes For ‘The Barn In the Wild,’” a series of notes (and footnotes!) written by an ambitious explorer looking to make a new account of his excursions into nature, and the strange discovery he makes in the woods. Both of these tales were as psychologically engaging as they were creepy, and were among my favorites out of the whole collection.

The story by Cody Goodfellow, “Of a Thousand Cuts,” is also of particular note, for the sheer fact that it is a spin on Barron’s often-overlooked short novel, The Light Is the Darkness. If you haven’t read that novel, I’d highly recommend you do so before jumping into this punchy tale.

And then there was John Langan’s “Ymir.” The only thing I could say after I finished reading that one was “Wow.” The amount of locations and even subgenres that it dexterously navigated was almost dizzying—and it was a short story, for crying out loud! And like the other tales I most enjoyed here, while I seriously didn’t quite understand what I experienced in its hallucinatory whorls of mesmerizing prose, I got enough out of it to know it was one hell of a cool ride. (Points also to one of its key characters being named Barry.)

Ultimately, these seventeen tales were mere candles held up in the middle of yawning, pitch-black caverns, catching mere outlines and glimpses of that “Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.” Laird Barron will return with a new, definitive tale (or collection of tales) of madness soon enough, I’m sure—but in the meantime, this is a nice appetizer from fans and for fans of the master navigator of our blackened world.

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Lights Out: A Conversation with Director David F. Sandberg

Author’s Note: Some spoilers ensue below. If you haven’t yet seen the short film Lights Out, I cannot be held responsible for spoiling its details—nor for any lack of sleep you may get if you do watch it. You’ve been warned.

“Have you seen Lights Out?” my girlfriend asked me one cold April night, as we snuggled beneath the covers to go to bed.

“No,” I said, getting comfy. “What’s that?”

“It’s a short film,” she said, and curious, I asked her if she could show it to me.

She had me grab her phone so she could find it, the light from the screen piercing the dusk of our bedroom. She stopped then, turned to me, and said, “Just remember, you asked me to show you this.” (This was after I’d made the same mistake only a couple of months earlier, when she introduced me to Salad Fingers.)

Two minutes later, she found what she was looking for and angled the phone towards me…

As I watched, my eyes slowly widened, my facial muscles slacking, and something very primitive began worming its way through my chest. I was experiencing a situation both familiar and unwelcome: that gripping, childhood terror of the boogeyman lurking just out of sight in any and every shadowed corner and half-open door. Needless to say, when the video was done, my girlfriend laughed and said, “I’m sorry, I’m a terrible person!” To which I replied, “That’s fine. Goodnight, dear.” It was quite some time before I was able to relax long enough for sleep to claim me.

Needless to say, my girlfriend and I were far from being the only victims of this short film. Lights Out has gained viral status as it continues to scare the living daylights out of people—including professional horror writers. Created for a UK film anthology group, Bloody Cuts, for their “Who’s There?” short film challenge, Lights Out is the horror-child of writer-director David F. Sandberg, and starring his wife, actress Lotta Losten.

Mr. Sandberg was kind enough to share some of his time to dish on his short film, its production, the waves it has been causing, and future projects.

BLD: You really, really perfectly captured the paranoia and panic of hiding under the bedsheets with this film. (Speaking for myself, I felt like a little kid, scared of anything outside of the safety of my bed.)

DS: Thank you! Since it was a zero budget film we had to make use of what we had. An apartment. A bed. Creaky floorboards. The story was kind of written by the location.

BLD: Starting with that initial shot of the woman walking up the hallway and turning off the lights behind her: how did you get the phantom to appear like that? It’s an immaculate shot.

DS: Since Lotta plays both characters, it’s a split screen shot, and I simply faded the phantom shot in and out with the light. You’d think a light bulb turns off immediately, but it actually fades out during a couple of frames.

BLD: In that final, terrifying shot before the lights go out of the phantom’s face…well, just what are we looking at? (i.e. was its face done with makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, SFX, etc.?)

DS: I’m a big fan of makeup and animatronics but since I don’t know how to do those things I had to do it CG. I modified and painted on a still frame of Lotta’s face and then added slight movement in Blender, a free 3D software.

BLD: You also did the cinematography to this film. Did you also edit it? (And did you score the music?)

DS: Yes, I do most things myself. Partly out of necessity, but also because I enjoy pretty much every aspect of filmmaking. Music is probably my weakest skill but at least I don’t have to pay any royalties. Though it was funny to see a short on YouTube use the “music” from Lights Out. I mean, if you’re going to steal music anyway, why not steal something good?

BLD: Lotta Losten is a natural actress. She conveys so much sympathy with her performance. How did you come to work with her?

DS: We actually dated when we were eleven years old. Then we took a break for about fourteen years, got back together and then got married last year. So we’ve known each other for a while. She’s an actress, among other things, and we help each other in our creative endeavors and work together on joint projects as well. We’ve written two screenplays together, but they’re not horror. Lotta’s not as into that as I am.

BLD: What films, TV shows, etc. have inspired you the most? And did any of them influence or inspire Lights Out?

DS: I guess everything you see influences you in one way or another. I love sci-fi as well, and especially when it’s mixed with horror, like (in films such as) The Thing, Cube and the Alien movies. It’s kind of hard being a horror fan, because most of the stuff that gets made is really bad.

BLD: What was the most recent great (or at least good) horror/science fiction film you’ve seen?

DS: I’ve mostly been re-watching things lately, like Jaws the other day. But I did go see Godzilla, which was kind of disappointing and X-Men: Days of Future Past, which didn’t make a lot of sense, but was very enjoyable.

BLD: How about literature?

DS: I read embarrassingly little fiction. Does manga count? I love Japanese horror manga, especially (from artist) Junji Ito. I guess I read some stuff online like creepypastas and SCP Foundation, but very little proper books.

BLD: Have you ever had anything spooky happen to you?

DS: The spookiest was probably when I was a kid, and during one really foggy evening, my friend and I were running around the woods not far from where we lived. We marveled over how little you could see ahead, through the thick fog. Suddenly we see a person in a cloak standing on top of a hill. As if that wasn’t scary enough, the person then pulled out a big sword and we ran for our lives home to my parents, who didn’t believe us. I’m guessing it was just a teenager having fun, but it was scary as hell when it happened.

BLD: I wonder if somewhere, someone just read that and laughed, thinking, “Oh wait, that was me!”  (Either that, or it was…something else!)

DS: If he reads it he better get in touch so I can finally prove to my parents that it happened. That’s the worst thing about being a kid; spooky things happen, and nobody believes you.

BLD: How do you feel, having this video achieving such popularity (or infamy?) online?

DS: Fantastic and strange. The film was a contest submission, and we didn’t expect it to have a life outside of the contest. When the plays on Vimeo were getting close to a million, Lotta and I sat in front of the computer refreshing the browser to see it happen. It was kind of like a New Year’s Eve countdown. It’s amazing what a 2.5- minute film can do. But I guess the fact that it’s so short, and that there’s no dialogue contributed to (it), it’s spread across the world.

BLD: How does it feel to know that you’ve successfully scared the you-know-what out of professional horror writers with this video?

DS: That’s the greatest compliment of all, if I’m able to scare someone who creates scary stuff for a living. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it more in the future.

BLD: Have you gotten any noteworthy work offers since this film’s release?

DS: Yes! I now have agents and managers in Hollywood. It’s crazy. I’m working on a feature film script now, and I’m getting sent scripts by my agents as well. I’m really excited to see what comes of all this. Maybe I’ll finally be able to make a horror film outside of our apartment.

BLD: That’s very exciting that you have a feature film in the works.  What can you (or are you allowed to) share about it at this stage?

DS: I’m not really sure what I can say, but I guess with the success of Lights Out, it’s kind of obvious that it’s based on that. When I made the short, I had no thought of a feature in mind; it was just a short. Luckily, since the short is very brief and kind of open, the feature can be anything really. But the main thing is the whole concept of only being safe in the light while surrounded by darkness where evil lurks.

BLD: Let’s pretend you had first choice to direct any upcoming film, be it officially announced or just a dream project. What would you choose, and what would you bring to it? (I’m calling it now: a new version of Richard Matheson’s Hell House.)

DS: I’ve never actually read (or seen) Hell House. I had to look it up and it sounds really interesting. I’ll definitely have to check it out.

I’d like to do a version of Day of the Triffids, but there’s already been a movie and two mini-series done, and another movie is on the way. There’s a very recent book called Bird Box (by Josh Malerman) that I would love to do as well, but it’s already in production, from what I hear. I guess the two are pretty similar in that they deal with the collapse of society and not being able to see. I guess that’s something that appeals to me, for some reason.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

DS: You can find more of Lotta and me at lottalosten.com and dauid.com. Or @lottalosten and @ponysmasher

BLD: Thanks, David! This was, quite frankly, very exciting.

DS: Thank you!

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