Tag Archives: Halloween

The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8

FOR THE LOVE OF JAWS
by Jeremy Wagner

BRODY: “Slow ahead. I can go slow ahead. Come on down here and chum some of this shit.”
HOOPER: “That’s a twenty-footer.”
QUINT: “Twenty-five. Three tons of him.”

What can one say about the movie Jaws that isn’t already common knowledge? Like, we know Jaws stands as one of the most epic/awesome/untouchable movies ever made. Glad we agree!

I write this Jaws-worship piece for Shock Totem on June 19th—just one day before the film’s 41st Anniversary. Just thinking of this movie brings back countless memories of the film (and the Peter Benchley novel, too) that I’ve had since I was 5 years old.

Jaws was actually the first “adult” novel that I ever read. My mom and some other family members all had Jaws in paperback and I was immediately hooked (no pun intended) by the cover art. I recall a sense of fascination and dread as I stared at the brilliant artwork created by legendary Hollywood movie-poster artist, Roger Kastel.

(Kastel’s original art was painted in just days. Moreover, the original 20×30-inch painting went missing around the time of the film’s release, and as of today is still missing and reported as “stolen.”)

Jaws, the film, directed by Steven Spielberg, was released on June 20, 1975, a little more than a year after novel. The movie profoundly changed my life. The music alone scared the shit out of me—just like John Carpenter’s Halloween score would do to me a few years later.

Jaws opened across North America on 464 screens. Shortly after, the film’s distribution expanded to nearly 700 theaters, and then by August 15, 1975, it was in more than 950 theaters nationwide. Distribution overseas followed suit, with massive television marketing and wide releases.

The filming was riddled with major problems and was deemed a failure as soon as production started. “Bruce,” the mechanical shark, was the #1 culprit. The laundry-list of calamities that transpired set a tone of doom over the cast and crew—with Spielberg convinced his career as a director was over—but when the dust settled, unreal, monumental success came out of what was predicted as catastrophe. The superb cast; the genius, award-winning editing of Verna Fields; the Oscar-earning film score, by John Williams; and the directorial suspense that Spielberg delivered all made for the most legendary horror movie the world has ever seen, in company with, and with complete respect to, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Thing, and Psycho, among others.

Moreover, Jaws’s success surpassed the horror genre, skyrocketing to the top of countless “Best Films of All Time” lists to where it sat atop the cinema mountain with The Godfather and Citizen Kane.

Jaws became the highest-grossing film of all time until Star Wars hit theaters in 1977.

All the deserved accolades, music, and blockbuster facts aside, let’s get to what makes the movie really awesome: the fucking TERROR of an unseen monster in the deep. Jaws instills a primal fear in us. Entertainment is a given, but this movie did to oceans what Hitchcock’s Psycho did for showers—getting wet at home or in the ocean caused great anxiety and fear. I know this feeling firsthand, as I was scared to even swim in the country lake near my grandparent’s farm in central Wisconsin after seeing Jaws!

This feeling of unease and horror can be directly credited to:

VICTIM #1: Christine “Chrissie” Watkins, whose nighttime swim made for one of the most unforgettable and terrifying pieces of cinema.

VICTIM #2: Pippet, the black Lab, who goes out to fetch and never comes back.

VICTIM #3: Alex Kintner, who is attacked in broad daylight (post Pippet the appetizer), with a fountain of blood and bubbling, underwater screams accompanying his destruction.

VICTIM #4: Survivors. Mr. Denherder and his friend Charlie cast out a holiday roast for Bruce and get more than they bargained for when the shark takes the bait and the entire pier with it, sending Charlie into the nighttime ocean. He makes it to shore in one piece—that is, until his wife gets a hold of him.

VICTIM #5: Ben Gardner. When his dead, one-eyed head pops out of the gaping hole in his boat, I peed a little!

VICTIM #6: The rowboat guy. Bruce hits the rowboat guy and also causes Michael Brody and his pals to tumble off their sailboat and into the water. The shark bites off rowboat guy’s leg and pulls him under.

(Right before the attack on rowboat guy, a gal on shore sees Bruce’s immense dorsal fin and tail as it swims into the estuary/pond. She croaks out, “Sh..shark! It’s going in the pond!” And I gotta tell ya, just that scene alone still fills me with immense dread. Well done.)

VICTIM #7: Quint becomes dinner. Quint—my favorite character played by the amazing Robert Shaw, and based on real-life monster shark-hunter, Frank Mundus—spent most of his days catching sharks and boiling their jaws. Unfortunately, all those dead sharks get their comeuppance as Bruce destroys Quint’s boat and eats the hard-edged captain.

All these death scenes created what some call the “Jaws effect.” This phenomenon had unfortunate consequences as great white sharks—and many other species—were slaughtered for pure sport and with extreme prejudice. This troubled both Steven Spielberg and Peter Benchley years later. Thankfully, great whites are now protected in many parts of the world, and conservation is paramount to most countries—except Japan who still insist on eating shark fins and contribute to the 273 million sharks killed annually.

I won’t get on my soap-box and preach about shark conservation, but it is extremely important to me and, fictional horror-sharks aside, I’m a self-proclaimed “great white shark expert” and have huge understanding of their biology and ecology and harbor a deep love for these animals. “Harbor” and “deep,” there I go again with the unintentional puns.

After 41 years, this film still holds up and is one amazing movie. Even though I own this flick, if this movie is just on normal TV and I stumble upon it, I just drop everything and say,” Fuck my day…Jaws is on.” It’s one of the best movies ever made. I’m always floored when someone young or old tells me that they haven’t seen it. I passionately inform said virgins that they’re missing out on seeing pure cinematic greatness and that they need to get off their asses and GO WATCH IT NOW!

I’m not only a huge Jaws fan, but I’m also an insane memorabilia collector. I own the movie in every film format ever made, I own numerous photos and original posters signed by cast and crew alike, I own countless film-related toys, and the crown jewels in my collection include one of the five yellow barrels used in the film, a harpoon used on the Orca in the actual movie, and one of the original film PRODUCTION/CREW t-shirts.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to meet Susan Backlinie (Chrissie), Carl Gottlieb (Meadows, and the author of The Jaws Log), and Joe Alves (production designer/epic story boarder), all of whom are not only gracious and friendly, but will also happily talk about their Jaws experiences and give you personal insight. For a Jaws nerd like me, that’s pure gold.

It’s summertime. The beaches are open. Go swimming and watch Jaws…and then go back in the water again. And for those who haven’t seen it, I’ll say it again: GET OFF YOUR ASSES AND GO WATCH IT NOW!

You’ll thank me later.

Jeremy Wagner has written lyrics to numerous published songs spanning several albums with his band Broken Hope. He also writes horror fiction with work published in RIP Magazine, Terrorizer, Metal Edge, Microhorror, and various works of short fiction published through Perseus Books, St. Martin’s Press, Ravenous Romance, and others.

Wagner’s published works include the best-selling debut novel The Armageddon Chord, the short stories “Romance Ain’t Dead” (Hungry for Your Love) and “The Creatures from Craigslist” (Fangbangers: An Erotic Anthology of Fangs, Claws, Sex and Love), the anecdotal “When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween” (Shock Totem #9.5), and Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, an exercise in writing horror.

The Armageddon Chord earned a Hiram Award, a first-round ballot Stoker Award Nomination, and received critical acclaim in Decibel, Publisher’s Weekly, and Rolling Stone. Wagner has since completed two novels.

Wagner’s currently recording Broken Hope’s seventh studio album. The band last released Omen of Disease via Century Media Records.

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Fair Frixxa, or Eve of Foxes, Eve of Thanks

Our good friend Steven P. Bouchard has written a classic-style holiday poem for Thanksgiving, and we’re very pleased to share it with you. We hope you do the same.

FAIR FRIXXA, OR EVE OF FOXES, EVE OF THANKS

I

Late after dark on All Hallows Eve,
After mischievous tricks and collecting of treats,
Skeletons chattered, dead things were screaming,
And sugared-up children were twitching and dreaming.

Deep in the woods in a leaf-covered clearing,
The foxes were gathered, the time was a-nearing.
In the fog that transitioned the night to the day,
To the keening of fox-calls, formed a frisky, dark shape.

And out of the haze stepped a fox-headed mum,
Who quieted her troop with the snap of her thumb.
Her name it was Frixxa, the Matron of Foxes,
She gathered her children to sit upon rockses.

With fog rolling slowly, and moonbeams aslant,
She lifted her arms and she started to chant.
The troop circled in and joined in her song,
With chatters, and wooing, and barks short and long.

Then beyond the darkness came gobbley noises.
The foxes gave chase, unleashing their voices.
And when the Fair Frixxa’s song came to an end,
Turkeys aplenty were corralled in the glen.

Now unearthly birds summoned back from beyond
Were squabbling all dazed from a year being gone.
So henceforth the foxes would fatten and feed them.
For soon the Fair Frixxa would certainly need them.

The night’s work all finished, the matron stood up,
And gave out her blessing to each kit and pup,
And as morning broke she dispersed with the mist,
A long silhouette as the sun’s rays first kissed.

II

A fortnight and half having passed in the glen,
Darkness fell early, the troop called again.
And out of the mist-shrouded night came the matron,
Wearing an orange- and brown-colored apron.

A week it then took them to ready the flock,
As feathers were scattered and blood soaked the rocks.
But once preparations were fully complete,
The clearing was cleaned and the foxes were neat.

Then hundreds of thousands of plump burlap sacks
Were tied up and hoisted on strong foxy backs.
And as the night fell on the Evening of Thanks,
With a word from Fair Frixxa, the foxes broke ranks.

And over the land they did carry their gifts,
With joyous yip-yapping, on feet running swift.
At each house and shanty they stopped at the door,
And with a quick pause left their offerings poor.

Frixxa, the mischievous maiden of foxes,
Took her own path and dissembled some lockses,
She entered the dwellings on silent fox feet,
To gaze at the children in beds all asleep.

And those she found worthy, or needy, or right,
She left a small gift under pillows that night.
To some she left wishbones, and some pretty pennies,
But to most just a blessing, and some didn’t get any.

And to those very naughty and evilest of kids,
Which is so very seldom (but sometimes she did),
She would leave a fair warning to send them a shiver,
Like wattles, or giblets, or eyes, or a liver.

III

And back to the clearing when all this was done,
Fled Fair Matron Frixxa, and her troop, every one,
To await the slow breaking of the sun’s early rays,
As each gift is discovered on Thanksgiving Day.

As people all over give thanks and then feast,
The fox-headed mum gives a nod to the east,
Then Frixxa Fair gets one last autumn trick in,
Transforming into a reindeer named Vixen.

About the Poem: I’ve always wondered why Thanksgiving gets a bum deal, blowing right by and being overshadowed by Christmas. I thought about it and realized that Thanksgiving doesn’t have any figurehead like Santa or the Easter Bunny—the turkey is not a herald of the holiday: its dinner.

Also, kids don’t really have anything to look forward to on Thanksgiving–not like Easter Eggs, Trick-or-Treating, or presents from Santa. There are not many holiday movies or TV specials with Thanksgiving in the foreground. So, “Fair Frixxa” is in response to that, giving the holiday an icon to follow, and a more tangible give/receive motif like the more popular holidays. While I don’t usually write poetry, this just begged to be written as a pastiche to the traditional “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” This is my attempt to bridge elements of Halloween and Christmas together, and to firmly plant a Thanksgiving legend in its proper November place. Now, if I could only get Boris Karloff to narrate it…

Steve

About the Author: Steve lives in Maine with two kids, two dogs, two guinea pigs, and one wonderful wife. This is his first published work.

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Shock Totem #9.5—Available Now!

Our latest holiday issue is now available!


Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

Treats abound, in this special edition of Shock Totem are seven short stories, one poem, and five nonfiction pieces. Of the fiction, John Boden and Bracken MacLeod venture into dark and weird neighborhoods in “Halloween On…” In “Out of Field Theory,” Kevin Lucia gives us a shadowed glimpse of what lurks beyond the frame. David G. Blake’s “Night in the Forest of Loneliness” smells of autumn and the beautiful death she brings.

Learn why sometimes it’s better to stay home on Halloween in “Tricks and Treats,” by Rose Blackthorn. Kriscinda Lee Everitt’s “Howdy Doody Time” is a poignant nod to the past. The shadows come alive in “Before This Night Is Done,” by Barry Lee Dejasu, and in my story, “The Candle Eaters,” I explore faith and hope and a darkness that haunts us all.

In addition to the fiction, Sydney Leigh provides a very fine poem, “Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed).”

Authors John Langan, Lee Thomas, and Jeremy Wagner, as well as filmmaker Mike Lombardo and the always wonderful and brusque Babs Boden, provide anecdotal Halloween recollections.

No tricks, all treats.

Table of Contents:

* Halloween On, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod
* Night in the Forest of Loneliness, by David G. Blake
* Kore, by John Langan (Holiday Recollection)
* Out of Field Theory, by Kevin Lucia
* Tricks and Treats, by Rose Blackthorn
* Witches and the March of Dimes, and Mike Warnke, by Babs Boden (Holiday Recollection)
* Howdy Doody Time, by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
* When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween, by Jeremy Wagner (Holiday Recollection)
* Before This Night Is Done, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* The Mansion, by Lee Thomas (Holiday Recollection)
* Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed), by Sydney Leigh (Poetry)
* Flay Bells Ring, or How the Horror Filmmaker Stole Christmas, by Mike Lombardo (Holiday Recollection)
* The Candle Eaters, by K. Allen Wood
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)

The print edition can be purchased at our webstore or Amazon.com and other retailers. The Kindle edition can be found here.

Learn more about our holiday issues here. And as always, thank you for the support!

Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.

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365 Days of Horror? Yes, Please!

Every year about this time, I get excited. Not because I’m eagerly waiting for holidays such as National Beheading Day* (although it sounds cool) or Fight Procrastination Day** (why fight it?), but because I know that October is just around the corner; and that means that haunted houses will open around the city. Like any other city, Las Vegas offers your run-of-the-mill haunted attractions, built inside semi-truck trailers and parked in strip mall parking lots. Circus Circus Hotel transforms their indoor amusement park, Adventuredome, into a family-friendly haunt featuring multiple haunted houses (supposedly the best in Vegas).


This juggalo thing has gotten way out of hand.

Each October, I gather any friends brave enough to join me and venture out into the world of strobe lights, prerecorded screams and monster sounds, and zombies jumping out from behind plywood doors. It is the best month of my year. Then, after Halloween, the doors close for the year and the trailers are pulled away to be tucked into storage for another eleven months. I spend those eleven months sulking on my couch, wishing that someone would make a decent horror movie already.

Enter The Goretorium, Eli Roth’s premium haunted attraction on the Las Vegas strip. I no longer have a reason to cry into my bowl of burnt popcorn. When it opened last year, I thought I was dreaming. For 365 days a year, there would be a place for me to get my haunted house fix.

Need a break from writing? Go to the Goretorium!

Dog chewed through the bedroom wall? Go to the Goretorium!

Girlfriend can’t get enough of America’s Got Talent? Go to the Goretorium!

Life got in the way a bit since then, but I finally had my chance to visit recently. Without giving away any details of the actual attraction (you’ve got to experience it for yourself), I thought I’d share some of the details of this special place.

The idea behind The Goretorium is that it used to be a hotel on the Las Vegas strip (The Delmont), but has been condemned for many years following the discovery that it was a place of murder, where many bodies of locals and tourists alike had been found. The lobby was designed to look just as it would if it were still condemned and closed to the public. Cobwebs hang from an old chandelier; paint peels from the walls. All guests are greeted by animatronic ghouls in the entryway, which I felt was a little hokey and took away from the overall creepy ambiance of the place. I hoped the attraction itself would offer more of that atmosphere, and less Disney.


Please excuse our appearance. We are murdering people.

I was not disappointed. From the beginning, I felt as if I just needed to get out before something bad happened; of course, something bad did happen, and then I had to get out before something worse came along. The design worked well, as each room felt cohesive within the scheme of the hotel, but still offered a unique experience. It was obvious that the owners spent a lot of money on this place to fulfill Roth’s dream.

That’s not to say it didn’t have its flaws, though. At times, the actors lacked enthusiasm and sometimes slipped out of character. It also lacked a proper ending for me, as I was looking for more closure to the experience (I’ll leave it up to you to check it out and decide for yourself).

Most places like this would spit you out into a gift shop, expecting you to pay obscene prices for stuff you don’t need, but this is Vegas. We do things a little different in this town. Upon exiting, you will find yourself in the middle of a bar. Sit down and have a drink while you make fun of your best friend for screaming like a little girl halfway through. Don’t forget to check out your picture on the way out.

Overall, I had a good time, and I recommend everyone visit this place at least once. You may even be able to find half-off deals through travel sites or Groupon.

* September 2

** September 6

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This Book Is Full of Slashers!

This was sent to our lovely Mercedes for review, some time ago. She kept telling me she was going to give it to me, as I’m the resident slasher film nut and I’ve actually seen most of the films discussed within. Well, I finally got this book a month ago and what a groovy book it is.

The Slasher Movie Book, by J.A. Kerswell, is a gorgeous thing, almost a coffee table art book. It’s loaded with beautiful renderings of poster art, cinema poster art, and other artifacts from the curious history of the genre.

J.A. Kerswell lovingly and tenderly gives us this 208-page love letter to a genre that folks love to hate. From his introduction to the category via a viewing of Halloween II when he was twelve to more obscure fodder. Kerswell knows his shit.

Beginning with the Theatre of Grand Guignol and the Italian giallo films, he holds our trembling hands and tours us through the foggy moors of British gothic and American horror. The golden age of the slasher, with its terrifying birth in 1978 and a little picture called Halloween. Through the early 1980s, when the video store shelves were loaded with endless masked imitators, all eager to quench a teen nation’s thirst for blood and breasts.

Kerswell knows what he’s talking about and chooses some wonderful—and sadly ignored gems—in the realm, films like The Prowler, Night School, and Bloody Birthday. I will admit I was a little saddened to see omissions of a few of my personal favorites, mostly the 1977 Canadian classic Rituals, truly an atmospheric gem and deserved of at least a passing mention.
He wraps up with a chapter on the tepid crop of 90s slasher films, not a single one of which I actually liked.

From there we have a few pages of fun stuff: A list of the top-ten slasher films and their body counts, and a nifty “Before They Were Stars” rundown of struggling young actors who starred in these gruesome flicks.

The bottom line is this: If you love the sadistic and often stupid slasher flicks that we rented and rented again…you’ll love this. A slick and eye-popping catalog of blood and guts. If you aren’t a fan of that niche of cinema, I’m afraid there isn’t much for you here.

There was so much buzz around David Wong’s John Dies At the End, and yet I somehow managed to miss it. So when the sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, arrived for me to review, I was worried that I’d not get it. That was a silly worry, indeed. Wong crafts a sequel that is quite adequate as a standalone. Same goofy characters, same sort of hijinks and chaotic scenarios.

We begin with our protagonist, David, being bitten by an invisible spider-creature in his bed. It tries to crawl in his mouth, but he fights it and flees. David then meets up with his friend, John, and they begin a long and frenzied journey into the dark, dastardly and downright ridiculous. I mean balls-out crazy shit. Inter-dimensional spiders-aliens that hole up in your mouth and control you, turning you into a monster; a gulag full of survivors who are scarier than the infected; a mysterious underground monster that eats your asshole if you sit down; a ghostly girl in an abandoned hospital; and a supervillain so clichéd and cheesy, he must be applauded. And there is one of the most tenaciously loyal dogs ever to appear in a novel about spidery parasitic beasts.

It’s as fun as a drive-in movie and as silly as a Saturday Night Live sketch…you know, when those were funny. It does have some drawn out and draggy moments, but if you troop through you’ll be glad you did. With the film release of John Dies At the End looming very close, I urge you to check out this book as well.

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Halloween Sale—13% Off Entire Order!

To celebrate this special day, we are offering 13% off your entire order for anything purchased through our webstore. Today only!

Just click here and enter the code HALLOWEEN upon checkout.

Happy Halloween, folks!

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Dark Treats from the Midnight Asylum

I first heard about Mark Allan Gunnells through James Newman, a mutual friend and a writer I consider family. On the merits of that alone, I knew Gunnells’s work must be special.

So I contacted Mark, and we quickly became friends. He is a sweet and humble guy. More importantly, he has a lot of heart. The one common thread that weaves through all that I have read from him, is the empathy and humanity his characters possess.

That is not always an easy thing to get across in print. In his short story collection, Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I, Gunnells gives us a fine and varied compilation of these types of characters. From the fantastically titled “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom” to the breathtakingly surreal “Jam.” He goes from serious and somber to silly at the drop of a hat.

I won’t go into details on every story here, but I will touch on a few that left a lasting impression.

The tome opens with “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom.” While slightly predictable there is enough freshness injected here to keep your attention. Sometimes confession does not gain you the absolution you hoped for. This is followed by my absolute favorite in the collection, “Jam.” A traffic jam is the setting for this bleak exercise in tension and fear and humans being. “The Gift Certificate” teaches a valuable lesson about possession. “The More Things Change” is astounding, a heart-wrenching painting on bullying. This is one of the best things in the collection.

Tales from the Midnight Shift, Vol. I was the first example of Mark’s craft I encountered. I have since delved deeper into his work and have yet to be dissappointed.

Despite its short stature of 67 pages, Asylum has a lot of substance.

At a glance, the premise—a group of misfits, standing tall to fight off the zombie apocalypse—doesn’t seem all that original. Mark peoples this story with an almost entirely gay cast, sets it in a gay club, and spatters it with plenty of gore and sex.

But where Asylum shines is with the deep textures given to the characters.

They are not mincing caricatures or flaming queens—well, maybe one is—but instead they are presented as the flawed human beings that we all are.

Once again, this proves to be Gunnells’s strong suit—painting pictures of people.

Just in time for this past Halloween, Mark gave us all this little gift—Dark Treats, a five story collection, with all tales revolving around the October holiday.

Opening with “Halloween Returns to Bradbury,” we get a riotous romp about how the devil has grown disgruntled with the commercialism of his holiday and returns to show us how it’s to be done. Some fantastic and ridiculous imagery ensues. “The Neighborhood that Halloween Forgot” is a slightly cliché tale of tolerance.

“My Last Halloween” is a sad little coming-of-age tale. “Treats” finds us in cheesy 80’s horror movie territory—silly monsters, rational logic, great fun! The collection ends on the somber “Family Plots,” which, while good, seems a bit cramped, begging to be worked into a longer work someday.

Mark Allan Gunnells is one to watch. His work is consistently entertaining and full of heart and soul.

Sometimes that’s what you need.

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By Wizard Oak

Like the old song says, I love a parade. Who doesn’t? The Halloween parade that opens this destined-to-be holiday classic by Peter Crowther is both terrific and terrifying. By Wizard Oak, published in a limited numbered series by Earthling Publications, is the wonderfully warped story of a small town called Magellan Bend. Once upon a Halloween, something very bad happened…something not many recall. The witches came and terrible things occurred: children were devoured and all traces of their being with them.

Now, eight years later, the only survivor of that incident has awakened from a long nap and things are growing dark once more. The witches are coming back for what they left behind, for who they left behind, and it’s up to him and his girl—along with a good witch—to save the day.

With By Wizard Oak, Crowther has crafted a bizarro fantasy that paints the most deliciously vile witches I have read about in a long, long time. These grody bitches are nasty business. Led by an elephantine witch named Great Depression, the army of black clad, pointy-hat-wearing hags stalk through small-town streets and between the fabric of time on their quest for the one that got away.

I really don’t want to elaborate much more, as it would give away too much, and while this is not a perfect book, it does deserve the service of some secrecy. It offers hokey humor and great word play, subtle creeps and balls-out scares. The writing style is fluid and flows as a movie playing behind your eyes, which in my opinion, is the way the best books should be. I found myself thinking on these witches all week. How horrible they were, with their cracked skin, sores and warts, and their scabrous fingers and mouths. Dear sweet lord, those mouths!

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